The annual R.A. Dickey turnaround could be arriving early
Coming off three strong starts, R.A. Dickey is showing signs of an early surge
R.A. Dickey pitched eight innings of shutout ball against the Texas Rangers on Friday night, dragging his ERA back down to 4.31 and showing some signs of an early turnaround following his unsteady start to the season.
The 41-year-old knuckleballer is a second-half performer, an idea conveniently forgotten by the angered, early-April masses. Entering this season fully healthy after dealing with a torn meniscus in his knee for much of last year and dropping some weight in the offseason, though, Dickey has set himself up to shake off the cobwebs a little earlier than usual.
If his last three starts are any indication, it’s happening.
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In Dickey’s three most recent outings, he’s pitched a combined 21.1 innings and allowed just three runs (1.27 ERA) with opponents hitting .197. He’s also forcing ground balls at a 45.7% rate on the season, his highest percentage since 2012 with the New York Mets.
Along with working some nuances into his delivery against Texas, including a quick-pitch or two, Dickey did something else critical: he found a little extra knuckleball velocity.
Dickey’s prior two starts in May against the Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers saw him produce average release velocities of 75.66 MPH and 75.46 MPH according to Brooks Baseball data. Last night in Texas, that velocity grew to 77.13 MPH. His sinker followed suit, taking another step forward to 83.79 MPH after sitting closer to 80 for the majority of his starts.
This worked in tandem with Dickey’s location, too. While the hard knuckleball is not enough on it’s own, his ability to spot it consistently (and higher) in the zone produced several swings-and-misses from Rangers players who were expecting the slow pitch to drop back to belt level.
After the game, Dickey remarked that the Texas climate last night and the transition from sunlight to sundown aided his signature pitch with ideal humidity levels.
Looking to last season, Dickey was sitting on a 5.76 ERA by mid-May. After a quick dip, it ballooned back up to 5.03 on July 4th before finally beginning a more consistent descent towards his season-ending number of 3.91.
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The season prior in 2014 Dickey was able to maintain more of a baseline throughout the season, but did pitch to a 3.22 ERA from July 1st on, helping him produce a 3.71 ERA by season’s end.
To see Dickey’s results improving is encouraging for the Blue Jays on a surface level, but seeing those improvements come alongside some concrete changes in his delivery and velocity data makes the box score more legitimate. Perhaps, more easily projected into future games.
If the schedule remains as is, Dickey’s next three starts are all expected to come within the division against Tampa Bay Rays at home, New York Yankees on the road, and Boston Red Sox at home.