The Blue Jays knuckleballer has quietly been a steady source of production since a rough first month
For a pitcher whose career is built on an unpredictable pitch, R.A. Dickey does follow some predictable trends.
The 41-year-old has been a slow starter for the Blue Jays, but in each of the past two years, he has turned his season around near the July 1st midway point. In 2016, however, he’s found a level of consistency relatively early.
Dickey’s April was one to forget. In five starts, he allowed 20 earned runs in just 26.2 innings (6.75 ERA) with an opponent’s OPS of .882. Wiping the slate clean beginning on the first of May, however, he’s been an ideal back-end rotation piece.
In 13 starts since, Dickey has pitched to a 3.25 ERA despite giving up 17 home runs, a number that could potentially regress given his career-high HR/FB percentage of 16.9%. His last time out against the Kansas City Royals, Dickey pitched seven strong innings on 111 pitches, allowing two earned runs (originally scored as being unearned) and striking out eight.
One tangible improvement from Dickey has been his knuckleball velocity, which has creeped upwards each month since the beginning of the season.
APRIL: 75.23 MPH JUNE: 76.25 MPH
MAY: 76.52 MPH JULY: 77.18 MPH
His fastball has followed suit and his opponent’s BABIP has returned to a level consistent with his Blue Jays years, so given the sample of his recent performance, it is reasonable to project this as being sustainable throughout the remainder of the year.
Last season was a prime example of exactly this. After pitching to a 5.02 ERA over his first 17 starts, Dickey turned the corner over his final 16 outings with a 2.78 ERA and was one of the Blue Jays most valuable arms down the stretch.
In 2014, Dickey’s first 17 starts saw a 4.24 ERA before a 3.22 mark over his final 17.
In many ways, Dickey’s season-long performance parallels his single-game performances. So often he allows a chunk of runs early in the game (or season), then finds his groove midway through to deliver a very strong performance.
The perception of his work is, unfortunately, weighed down by the disappointment in Dickey’s early shortcomings and these laters successes are rarely given an equal share of the conversation.
Potential remains for Dickey to take another step towards his 2015 second-half numbers, too, as he works to drag his ERA comfortably below 4.00. The Dickey of the present – meaning the Dickey since May 1st – isn’t quite at the level of Marco Estrada or Aaron Sanchez this season, perhaps J.A. Happ either, but he’s not as far off as many think.