R.A. Dickey’s infatuation for Josh Thole makes catching situation interesting
There is no question that as it currently stands, R.A. Dickey remains the “ace” of the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff, at least when the season begins. Whether that in and of itself is an indictment on the strength of Toronto’s starting rotation is another story, but there is no doubt that it allows the pitcher’s opinions to carry some weight with the organization and the clubhouse.
And right now, that opinion is firmly of the mind that Josh Thole needs to be behind the plate catching Dickey’s knuckle ball.
In a conversation with Jeff Blair of Sportsnet, Dickey continued to advocate for his long-time battery mate. Outside of a few months of throwing to Henry Blanco in 2013, Dickey has paired up with Thole almost exclusively while in a Blue Jays uniform and it’s a relationship he wished to continue.
"“I don’t think there’s any replacement for time spent. Josh has caught 75 to 80 percent of my starts since 2010 or 2012 and there’s nobody better.” – R.A. Dickey (via Jeff Blair, Sportsnet)"
It’s hard to argue with Dickey in this regard. After starting the 2013 season with Blanco as his personal catcher, Dickey struggled out of the gate with a 5-8 record, a 5.11 ERA, and allowed 14 home runs in his first 14 starts of the season. After Thole got inserted, Dickey went 6-4 down the stretch and lowered his ERA to 3.59 in the process, although home runs continued to be a problem.
That success carried over into 2014. Dickey lowered his yer-to-year ERA from 4.21 in 2013 to 3.71 in 2014, raised his K/9 ratio from 7.09 to 7.22, and lowered his HR/9 from 1.40 to 1.09 with Thole behind the plate for every start.
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Of course, Dickey’s performance is only half of the equation. Josh Thole‘s worth to the team is much different.
After starting the 2013 campaign in Triple-A Buffalo, Thole caught the bug that affected all Blue Jays catchers that season and failed to climb over the Mendoza Line, slashing a paltry .175/.256/.242 in 135 plate appearances. Ultimately, Thole was rated at half a win less than a replacement value player for the 2013 season.
2014 did show significant improvements for Thole, as the backstop raised his batting line to .248/.320/.278, nearly doubling his wRC+ from 36 to 71 in the process. However, WAR continued to not appreciate Thole’s work, both at the plate and behind it, rating him even at replacement level, and fielding metrics like Defensive Runs Saved (-2 to -5), rGFP (Good Fielding Plays Runs Saved, -1 to -2), and rSB (Stolen Base Runs Saved, 0 to -3) all showed decline last season.
That all said, the presence of three Major League catchers creates a strenuous situation for the Toronto Blue Jays. Russell Martin was brought aboard to be the team’s primary catcher and has openly stated that he is open to catching R.A. Dickey. Additionally, the team also has incumbent start Dioner Navarro, who can split time between DH and catcher. However, the team has been trying to move Navarro in a trade, one which has yet to present itself as of yet.
Moving Navarro is a trade is still the desired path for the team, in both a financial and roster sense. Navarro will be unhappy without a full-time role, one which he earned a season ago, and the team would prefer to allocate his salary to filling the relief roles that still remain open.
But at the end of the day, Dickey’s preferences at this stage are a moot point. If Martin is capable of handing the knuckle-ball and Toronto is unable to move Navarro, Thole is the odd man out. And the Blue Jays will be a better team for it.