Much like his uncontrollable knuckleball, Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey had another wild yet efficient season. Dickey’s 2015 campaign could almost be reflected by an understanding of his entire career. A high draft pick by the Texas Rangers after leading the 1996 U.S. Olympic team to a Bronze medal, Dickey would quickly have his dream pulled out from underneath him after Rangers physicians found Dickey had no UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) in his throwing arm. Dickey’s $810,000 signing bonus, would be reduced to $75,000 after the fact. When Dickey would eventually be called up to the majors, his small pitch repertoire, mixed his with his fastball hitting around 87mph, would lead to some pretty poor results. Pitching his first five years to a Major League ERA of 7.89, Dickey would search for a new approach to pitching.
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Dickey’s one successful pitch while he was at the majors was his crazy Forkball that he nicknamed ‘The Thing’ for it’s wild movement through the air and ability to confuse batters. This apparent ‘Thing’ just happened to be a very, very fast knuckleball. Dickey would begin the transition into a full time Knuckleballer, usually considered the last resort for pitchers trying to hang onto their dreams of standing on a major league mound. He would play for the Brewers, Mariners, and Twins while he honed his new craft. Working in the offseason at his local high school gym, throwing and throwing against the wall, he perfected his new pitch. Desperately looking for other gym users to catch for him, word started spreading around the gym, ‘Catch for that guy, you might lose your head!’
It wasn’t until six years of hard work that Dickey would start to see the benefits pay off. In 2010, Dickey would sign with the Mets, starting off in the Minor Leagues and blowing out the competition. He would than be called up to the Majors, and he would never look back. In Dickey’s three years with the Mets, he would pitch to a 2.95ERA, win the 2012 NL Strikeout Award, become an All-Star, and become the first Knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award.
Dickey went from just another pitcher searching for anything, searching for the the strike zone, scraping the bottom of a minor league roster, to becoming one of the most feared pitchers in the MLB. Two different sides of his career, much like this year, two completely different seasons all wrapped into one.
For all the inconsistency that people complain about when watching a knuckleball pitcher, Dickey remains to be nothing but consistent by throwing one pitch the most in the majors (2,840 Knucklers in 2015). Making every single start regardless of injury or amount of rest, and turning 42 years old in the offseason, Dickey continues to pitch well over 200IP a year.
Despite Dickey’s poor first half, he would enjoy his best season as a member of the Blue Jays. After the trade deadline, his play would be overshadowed by the arrival of newcomer David Price, and the emerging Marco Estrada. Still, he’d provide stellar play down the stretch to his first playoff appearance.
When you’re looking at someone who is having their best season as a Blue Jay, a lot of nitpicking can still be done to look at the negatives of their season. Dickey would come out of the gate slow, that’s for sure, but even when he eventually did turn around his season, the big moments were a struggle. Dickey slated behind Price, Estrada, and Marcus Stroman, could provide huge depth through the pitching rotation during the playoffs – this would end up being not the case.
In the playoffs, Dickey would start two games, one in each series. In the ALDS, R.A. wouldn’t last long, only pitching 4.2IP of one run ball, being relieved by David Price who would give up three runs out of the bullpen. There was an argument that Dickey should have stayed in the Game, but he would be given a second chance in Game four of the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals. We all knew Kansas City was the best fastball hitting team in the majors last year, but we didn’t know they were the best knuckleball hitting team as well. Dickey only lasted 1.2 innings, giving up four earned runs while walking two.
Dickey, in the end, enjoyed a great season with the Blue Jays, so chalking his entire season up to one poor play in the playoffs isn’t really fair. Dickey was the only starter this year who began the season in the rotation and started in the playoffs.
Dickey was extended his team option this offseason, bringing him back for the 2016 season at a $12 million salary. He will be playing for a new contract this year, so don’t be surprised if he shows up big. Although he will be turning 42 years old in the offseason, it would not be surprising to see Dickey go for a couple more seasons.
As Dickey’s knuckleball velocity is stable, it is not unheard of for Knuckleball pitchers to play well into their late forties. Tim Wakefield was 45 when he retired, and Phil Niekro was eating dinner at four in the afternoon and cashing social security cheques when he retired from baseball (48). It would be nice if Dickey could put it all together for one season as a Blue Jays, having a start-to-finish season like his second half of 2015.
Stats Provided by Fangraphs