Game 119, Blue Jays at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. RA Dickey, 7:10pm
RA Dickey was the 2012 NL Cy Young award winner, and he signed a big (ok, maybe “moderate” is more accurate) contract with the Jays the year after. And yet, he’s clearly the second best pitcher tonight, and that’s the big reason why Fangraphs gives the M’s a better-than-60% chance of completing the series sweep tonight.
Dickey’s always been just about impossible to project. In his first few seasons as a knuckleballer, first with the M’s and then with Minnesota, his control got him into trouble, and while he limited BABIP (the knuckleballer addendum to Voros McCracken’s DIPS theory), it wasn’t enough to make him more than replacement level. But upon joining the Mets in 2010, he suddenly stopped walking so many and nearly instantly became a good, solid MLB starting pitcher. He posted better-than-league average WARs in 2010 and 2011, and that clearly understated his value: because his true talent BABIP was lower than the average (something FIP ignored), he was much better on the field than you’d know by looking at his fielding independent stats. In 2012, he went nuts and became a strikeout pitcher as well, as batters started chasing his knuckler out of the zone. His control was excellent, and that allowed him to get ahead of hitters and get them to expand the zone. In addition, the low BABIP meant higher than average strand rates, and boom, 20 wins, less-than-3.00 ERA, hardware.
Before he signed with Toronto, Dave tried to correct the idea that Dickey was a one-year wonder, and indeed, Toronto ended up paying not for his extraordinary 2012, but something like his 2010-2011 level of performance. In a lot of ways, that’s what they’ve gotten. His BABIP is right where it was, his walks are up a bit (expected after switching leagues), but his K’s have stayed fairly high too. He’s not getting as many whiffs, but that’s not the story. The story is that he’s lost that traditional knuckleballer skill of stranding baserunners because of his low BABIP. The low BABIP’s still there, but the strand rate keep falling.
Most pitchers have a very similar pattern in their three-true-outcome stats when the bases are empty and when there are runners in scoring position. Traditionally, K rates are highest, walk rates are lowest, and HR rates highest with the bases empty. Hisashi Iwakuma is the best example, as he challenges hitters with the bases empty, then gets a bit cagier with RISP (even if that means pitching around a tough hitter). Dickey was just like everyone else when he was with the Mets, but now, the reverse is happening. Or rather, he’s not seeing any gains in HR-rate from his losses in BB rate with RISP. He walks more hitters, but he’s giving up his HRs when they hurt the most. The odd thing is that it’s not JUST Dickey. The entire Blue Jays team has a higher HR rate with RISP than they do with the bases empty. That makes no sense. Not sure you can blame this on the HR-inflating properties of the Rogers Centre, not sure if it’s pitch calling, or something the catchers are doing, but it’s really weird. Dickey’s retained some of the benefit that adheres to knuckleballers, but he’s lost the others. No idea if he can get them back.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Denorfia, RF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller SS