Here at Jays Journal we’ve started to take a look at the likely 25 man roster, and try to paint the picture of what 2016 may hold for our beloved Jays. The next instalment of our 2016 season preview takes a look at veteran knuckleballer and rotation piece, R.A. Dickey.
As most of us know by now, this will be R.A. Dickey’s 4th season in Toronto after the Jays picked up his 12-million dollar option, and he will be a free agent in 2017. Although he’s 41 and now the oldest player in the MLB with the retirement of LaTroy Hawkins, Dickey has continued to contribute value to the Jays throughout his tenure. Granted, he hasn’t competed for a Cy Young award since joining the AL, but he has been a solid contributor nonetheless.
2015 Production Recap
Dickey got off to a slow start again in 2015, which has been a consistent problem since coming to the AL. Through the first six weeks, he was sporting a ghastly 5.76 ERA, and even admitted in an interview with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet that “The truth of the matter is I’m searching right now.”
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He and pitching coach Pete Walker got to work making a few small adjustments, and from June on the Jays got a completely different pitcher. Over his final 15 starts of the season, Dickey pitched to a 2.80 ERA, pitching deep into games and even re-capturing a few seemingly crucial miles-per-hour on his knuckleball.
Although he didn’t get much of an opportunity in the playoffs, the Blue Jays likely don’t get there without his contributions, especially in the 2nd half. Dickey finished with a healthy 214.1 innings pitched and a respectable 3.91 ERA.
2016 Role and Steamer Production
Predicting what to expect from a 41 year old knuckleballer can’t be the easiest task, but of course there are tools aplenty available to today’s baseball minds. The Steamer projection sees Dickey contributing similar production in 2016, tabbing him for a 12-11 record with a 4.25 ERA over 202 innings and a WAR of 2.2.
While those may not be the sexiest numbers to look at, they will more than likely be crucial to whether the Jays can contend again in 2016. With a somewhat inexperienced cast expected to join Dickey in the rotation, his most important role may be eating innings as he and Mark Buehrle have for the last several seasons. While he won’t be considered the ace, Dickey could be as important as anyone on the staff.
What could go wrong?
Yes, knuckleball pitchers are able to extend their careers much longer than traditional pitchers. We saw Tim Wakefield pitch into his mid-forties, as did others like Phil Niekro. R.A. Dickey has not been a “traditional knuckleballer” since re-branding himself, and has relied on a much faster knuckleball than many of his contemporaries.
Many scouts and writers noticed that Dickey made significant improvements in 2015 after he regained a couple miles an hour on his knuckleball. If that is in fact an important factor in his success, can he continue to throw a “hard knuckleball” at 41? Can he do it over a full season? Knuckleball pitcher or not, father time has yet to lose a battle with a professional athlete.
What could go right?
As mentioned previously, Dickey has struggled coming out the gate since coming to the AL. Looking at Dickey in the first half as opposed to the latter, you see a totally different pitcher. He and pitching coach Pete Walker worked very hard to find the sweet spot for speed and movement last year, and if Dickey is able to take that into the 2016, perhaps he can finally put together a full season of productivity in Toronto.
Because he relies on the knuckleball, 41 isn’t the death knell it would be for any other pitcher. As long as he can keep the pitch in the high 70’s or low 80’s, Dickey can likely continue to contribute great value in the middle of the rotation.
The Bottom Line
While it’s unlikely that Dickey can pitch below a 3.00 ERA for a full season at 41, the general expectation is that he’ll come close to the numbers he’s put up since becoming a Blue Jay. If he can find his groove and confidence early in the season, perhaps we’re in for Dickey’s best season yet as a Blue Jay.
Time will eventually catch up with the knuckleballer, but the guess here is he’ll continue to provide solid value for the upcoming season, with a side of occasional frustration.