R.A. Dickey deserves your patience, and the Blue Jays’

Apr 15, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Veteran Toronto Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey has started slowly in 2016, but just like last year, all he needs is a little patience. He’s earned it, too.

Noah Syndergaard is taking New York by storm. Josh Thole is wasting a roster spot. R.A. Dickey is done. You’ve heard all the noise this week.

But give R.A. Dickey a break. In another two months, you’ll be glad you did.

For reasons both in and out of the knuckleballer’s control, Dickey is already being painted as the weak link of the 2016 Toronto Blue Jays rotation. Forget the fact that these pitchers are just 15-to-20 innings into their seasons, it’s knee-jerk season and business is a-boomin’.

As a notoriously slow starter, though, Dickey is worth the wait for the performance he’s able to give a team over the second half of a season.

Through his first three starts, Dickey holds a 6.75 ERA over 14.2 innings. Most recently, Dickey ran into a bizarre issue that he’s come to face all too often these past few years: his knuckleball was moving too much. This is reflected in his strikeouts per nine innings (9.2) and his walks per nine (4.9) both being well above his career averages.

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That knuckleball is dancing, and a lot is happening, but not much of it has been good so far. That’s fine.

In 2015, it was very much the same. Through his first ten starts, covering all of April and May, Dickey had a 5.77 ERA with an opponent’s OPS of .798. Those numbers send the average starter back to triple-A without a goodbye party, but Dickey expectedly resurfaced. A 3.32 June ERA would begin the turnaround before he really hit the gas the rest of the way.

Covering his final 16 regular season starts from July 9th on, Dickey was 8-2 with a 2.78 ERA and an opponent’s OPS of just .617. He also had similar results in 2014, pitching to an excellent 3.22 ERA from July on..

In both seasons, R.A. Dickey has eclipsed 200.0 innings pitched with ease. That’s not enough, though. He also did so with ERAs of 3.71 and 3.91, so the quality factor is there (enough) to support the quantity. His slow first halves have marred fan opinion on the remainder of his seasons in both situations, and that has resulted in an unfair view of his year-long performance as a whole.

Much of this, admittedly, has to do with the great pining for Noah Syndergaard. That’s a convoluted topic of it’s own that I’ll dive into later in the week, but between that and the Cy Young Award, Blue Jays fans have refused to see Dickey for what he is: A very valuable number four pitcher.

That’s what Dickey is right now, and that’s all that matters: The “right now”.

Another thing to consider here is the ever-present (very) advanced statistic: Crap Luck.

Opposing hitters have a .388 BABIP against R.A. Dickey through his first three starts. Either the entire American League East has morphed into Chris Colabello for the 2016 season, or this is an inflated number that’s due to regress in Dickey’s favour.

Bet the latter. His BABIPs against as a Blue Jays starter from 2013 to 2015?  .265, .263, .257.

An argument can, and should, be made that “a win in April counts for the same as a win in September”. This level of mathematics is not lost on me, but Dickey’s fit within the current rotation could also help to make these early stumbles pay off with excess value down the line when it is more needed.

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Aaron Sanchez is flying out of the gates, but could be facing an innings limit. J.A. Happ is on fire, but his performance thus far is still an outlier compared to much of his career. Marco Estrada is coming off an outlier season of his own. Marcus Stroman, the staff’s ace, hasn’t put together a full season in the starting rotation at this point in his career.

With the potential for a regression, injury, or one of these pitchers hitting a wall by late June — such is the nature of baseball — having Dickey turning the corner just around at that time will be an (ex) ace in the hole for the Blue Jays.

Keep in mind that Dickey pitched for much of 2015 with a torn meniscus in his knee and dropped over 10 pounds this offseason in an effort to stay healthy and hone in on the control of his knuckleball. If his inevitable turnaround waits until mid-season to show its face, so be it, but don’t rule out an early arrival, either.