Thursday, May 31, 2012

R.A. Dickey: The National League's Best Kept Secret?

If you play fantasy baseball on, you would know that Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey is currently owned in 90.2% of public leagues. What you would also know is that a week ago that number was only 46.9%. Such a jump is usually indicative of a rookie storming into the show, a la Mike Trout in Los Angeles. Since we're starting with a fantasy baseball argument, let's look at what Fox Sport's Ryan Fowler said about Dickey on May 23rd:

"Investing in knuckle ball pitchers is always risky. His K/9 rate of 8.01 is nearly three strikeouts higher than his average over the last three seasons. Despite an ERA hovering around 3.00 and a 1.20 WHIP, Dickey is a sub-.500 pitcher (19-22) over the last two seasons."

In all fairness, Dickey *did* go 19-22 in 2010-11. Two things contributed to this - a rough start to 2011 (2-6, 4.39ERA through May 31). However, after that point, Dickey had been lights out in 2011. Here's the line on his final 21 starts last year:

21 GS, 1 CG, 6-7 (12-9 team record), 141 IP, 125 H, 43 ER, 31 BB, 89 K, 2.74 ERA, 1.106 WHIP

If you agree that a pitcher's win-loss record doesn't tell the whole story, the *only* knock on Dickey is his lack of strikeouts (5.68 K/9). Other than that, Dickey was one of the best in the National League last year, despite dealing with painful plantar fasciitis. And it's not a trend that has slowed down. If we include R.A. Dickey's 2012 work, we have:

31 GS, 1 CG, 13-8 (20-10 team record), 210 IP, 179 H, 65 ER, 48 BB, 150 K, 2.78 ERA, 1.081 WHIP

Well those sure are a top-flight pitcher's statistics! Let's compare that to a couple other recent National League pitching seasons:

Pitcher A: 32 GS, 8 CG, 19-6 (24-8 team record), 233.2 IP, 208 H, 61 ER, 35 BB, 220 K, 2.35 ERA, 1.040 WHIP

Pitcher B: 33 GS, 1 CG, 13-14 (17-16 team record), 217 IP, 176 H, 66 ER, 86 BB, 220 K, 2.74 ERA, 1.207 WHIP

Pitcher C: 35 GS, 1 CG, 16-9 (22-13 team record), 235 IP, 214 H, 84 ER, 63 BB, 179 K, 3.22 ERA, 1.179 WHIP

(Read to the end for the reveal!)

"But he doesn't have elite strikeout numbers!"

True, but not vital here. This does create a Sabermetric disadvantage of sorts, as many pitching metrics (FIP,SIERA for example) weight strikeouts over other 'out-types' and thus rank him lower. Despite not racking up K's, R.A. Dickey nonetheless compares favorably to his counterparts in ERA, WHIP, and IP/start -- he still gets batters out just as efficiently. It's hard to predict if his K-numbers this year won't regress, but he's done enough to show that he doesn't need them to succeed.

"But the knuckleball is such a random pitch, how do we know this will last?"

This is true. The knuckleball is in itself a "small sample size" element. No one knows it well enough to predict it, not even the men who throw them. Dickey began to throw the pitch full time in 2005, and admits openly that it's a work in progress. However, what we do know, is that he's making a pretty damn good argument that he's got this down. His career ERA with the Mets is 3.08, and 49 of his 68 starts with the Mets have been "Quality" (and he's only given up more than 4 runs in a start 7 times). He's averaged nearly 6.2 innings since joining the rotation, and a stunning (for a knuckleball pitcher) 2.3 walks per nine. And for those who want to argue his success against his past failures, Dickey's last start marked the point at which more than 50% of his Major League innings have come with the Mets.

Robert Allan is also, by several metrics, one of the best fielders at his position. He finished last year with an MLB-leading 58 assists, 3rd in the majors with 8 defensive runs saved, 3rd in the majors (among RHPs) with 5 pickoffs, and 2nd in the MLB (1st in the National League) in Baseball Info Solutions Fielding Bible Awards (source).

When Dickey won the National League POY award last week (2-0, 14.1 IP, 1 ER, 21 K), his name launched into the national spotlight. The secret is out. What some of us have known for a while is that it's belonged there for some time now.

The pitchers used for comparison are:

A: Roy Halladay (2011)
B: Tim Lincecum (2011)
C: Chris Carpenter (2010)

with a combined 5 Cy Young awards between them.

1 comment:

  1. I love R.A. Dickey. It's good to see him getting some well deserved love.