Believe me, no one is more tired of hearing RA Dickey say he’s still trying to figure out his knuckleball than me. The whole, “it’s a process”, “it’s a journey”, “the knuckleball is a capricious animal”, shtick—I’m over it. At some point this has to stop being a divine quest and start being solid, dependable pitching.
It seems to me that once you remove all the metaphysical post game introspection and literary anecdotes, what we’re being told is, “it will happen when it happens.” Well, I can think of two high talent prospects and 25 million reasons why I’d like it to happen sooner rather than later, but… is it really fair for me to think that way?
It’s certainly not equitable to expect Dickey to repeat what he did last season. A CY Young caliber year is improbable enough, let alone for a knuckleballer. Repeating is near impossible. Yet, even if you toss out last year, and examine the years that preceded it as compared to this year, Dickey’s FIP is near the highest it’s ever been in his knuckleball throwing career at 4.90. His ERA is much the same at 5.18. In fact, since giving up 6 homers in his Major League knuckle baller debut, his homer’s per nine is at its highest margin ever at 1.45. He’s just not the same guy right now.
But, is he still helping the club?
Yes. Absolutely. Dickey has only thrown less than 6 innings in an outing only once this year. That’s the most durable and reliable of any Blue Jay starter—words that, as of late, are rarely seen used in same sentence together. Dickey has thrown 6 or more innings in 11 of his games started, and will he’ll most likely continue to do that over the course of the year. Even though his stats indicate a trend towards a down season, he’s still likely to log over 200 innings. That many innings makes him extremely valuable, not to mention the fact it will provide him with opportunities to bounce back.
So then, if he’s still looking for his great knuckleball, when does he find it? When does he make this bounce back?
I have no idea. And to be honest, I don’t think Dickey does either. As tired as I am of the post game pitching spirit quest updates, how else can you really explain what he does? Dickey takes the mound and has his good knuckleball, meanwhile a butterfly flaps its wing in Central Park and Peking you get rain instead of sunshine. Sound bytes post game include, “The Knuckleball doesn’t obey set patters or park schedules—the essence a chaos.” I’m starting to think that it’s not so much knuckleballers happen to have excess personality, it’s that they have to have excess personality to survive throwing the damn thing for a living.
The one non-chaotic factor here is that there is still a lot of season left for Dickey, who is going to eat up buckets of innings during that stretch. He has ample time to right the ship. And, it’s not like he hasn’t given his team a chance to win in the meantime. Mark Buehrle, who has a higher ERA than Dickey has also received more run support at 4.82 vs 3.50.
I’m not trying to be a Dickey apologist. I realize he’s the reigning CY Young and that the Jays paid two prospects to get him, and millions to retain him. But he did come here with massive expectations. He hasn’t lived up to them, plain and simple. But how much of that is warranted expectation and how much was the byproduct of a acquiring a guy whose best pitch is chaos theory?
Right now we are getting rain instead of sunshine and we feel cheated. Don’t. Dickey is a slave to his pitch, but it’s a good one. It’s a very streaky thing. He has the potential to dominate at any time, and for long stretches. I’d rather have that from a pitcher who makes every start and goes deep in each of them, than an unproven prospect or a guy who, at his best, can only scrape out a high 4 ERA and is chronically on the DL. This hasn’t been a great 2013 for Dickey, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.