Blue Jays Notebook: Knuckleball hangover

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey delivers a pitch (Steven Senne/AP)

Throughout the off-season, I’ll provide commentary and links related to the Toronto Blue Jays and MLB every weekend.

R.A. Dickey sees himself as an innings eater who can take the ball every five days and keep the Toronto Blue Jays in games. It’s a point he made with some frequency during an up and down 2013 season.

“I know my role,” he said as the season was winding down. “My role is to put up 200-plus innings and hopefully win 15 games or more.”

Dickey logged 224.2 innings in 2013, but he may also have helped his team in another way. It appears that opposing hitters experience a knuckleball hangover once Dickey exits the game. Christopher Carruthers, a Breaking Blue writer and FanGraphs contributor, showed this week that relievers see a consistent improvement in strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate when they pitch after Dickey. It’s not hard to imagine that the contrast between Dickey and, say, Steve Delabar would be disorienting. The numbers now suggest this adjustment affects hitters, providing the Blue Jays’ bullpen with an edge.

We already knew that the knuckleballer’s 220-inning seasons give relievers a break by reducing their workload. It now seems possible that his knuckleball gives Blue Jays relievers a boost in another unexpected way: by creating a knuckleball hangover for hitters around the league.

Now for some other items of note from the past week…

VALUE ON THE RISE: Speaking of Blue Jays relievers, Shi Davidi reported this week that Alex Anthopoulos believes some of the Blue Jays’ bullpen arms could gain trade value before long. The GM’s reasoning makes sense: if free agents obtain lucrative multi-year deals, similarly effective relievers earning modest salaries have considerable value in contrast.

Whether the Blue Jays make a deal or not, it’s safe to say that they now value relief pitchers differently than they did eight years ago this week. That’s when they signed B.J. Ryan for a then-record $47 million contract. The baseball industry as a whole is no longer so bullish on relief pitchers — even those who dominate the way Ryan did in his prime.

SLOW START: The slow pace of the Blue Jays’ off-season doesn’t compare with the drama of last year. By this time in 2012, the Blue Jays had traded their manager, added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in a blockbuster trade and signed Maicer Izturis and Melky Cabrera.

But the team’s recent inaction doesn’t mean the Blue Jays are going to stay quiet between now and opening day. Most major free agents are still available as are dozens of trade chips. After weeks of assessing the market, teams such as the Blue Jays now have the information they need to make the decisions that lead to trades and signings.

THOUGHTS ON PITCHING MARKET: If Ricky Nolasco gets $49 million, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez may cost even more… Phil Coke gets the chance to redeem himself after a disappointing season with the Detroit Tigers. He’s set to return to Detroit, where he can earn $150,000 in incentives on top of his $1.9 million base salary… One early winner of the off-season is agent Barry Meister who found three-year deals for relievers Joe Smith and Javier Lopez… Bounce-back candidate Roberto Hernandez has drawn interest from eight teams after posting a 4.89 ERA with the Tampa Bay Rays, according to an industry source. The market for the ground ball specialist is expected to pick up after U.S. Thanksgiving.

NOTES: It’s probably too early to say whether there’s much hope of bringing baseball back to Montreal, but there are many reasons to believe the city could support an MLB team again. This much is certain: the presence of a viable alternative such as Montreal provides teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays with leverage in their respective municipalities… As slowly as the Blue Jays’ off-season has started, they have a core of impact players in place. Steamer’s 2014 projections have five of Toronto’s position players generating at least three wins above replacement in 2014: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes and Colby Rasmus.

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