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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Megdal: RA Dickey: Steal of the Offseason

The Achievement of RA Dickey: A Comprehensive Selection of His Knucklers.

But would it surprise you to know he’s been the second-most valuable pitcher of any who signed last winter, regardless of salary?

Dickey’s been worth 4.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2011, good for 16th in all of baseball among starting pitchers. Those pitchers ahead of him: Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (the only signing of the offseason with more value than Dickey in 2011, but who will make more in 2011 than Dickey will make over the life of his contract, even if the Mets pick up the 2013 option), Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Ricky Romero, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson. That’s pretty good company. And pitchers Dickey bested include Tim Lincecum, David Price, Dan Haren, Matt Cain… and everyone else not on the first list. Roy Oswalt. Zach Greinke. Tim Hudson. Shrimp gumbo, shrimp scampi…

But to reiterate, among pitchers available last winter, only Lee finished ahead of Dickey. Consider that Carl Pavano made $8 million this year (and is signed for $8.5 million next year) for 1.5 WAR, a third of Dickey’s value. Jon Garland made more than twice what Dickey made in 2011-$5 million- and finished with a -0.1 WAR. Javier Vazquez made three times what Dickey made ($7 million), and more in 2011 than Dickey will make in 2011 and 2012 combined. His 1.7 WAR was about a third of Dickey’s as well.

Repoz Posted: September 20, 2011 at 05:59 PM | 24 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, history, mets, sabermetrics

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   1. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 20, 2011 at 06:33 PM (#3931016)
Not that Dickey hasn't provided great bang for the buck, but if a stat tells you that R.A. Dickey has been better than Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, you should go back and ask what's wrong with your stat.
   2. Rants Mulliniks Posted: September 20, 2011 at 06:34 PM (#3931018)
You'll need a better argument than WAR to tell me that Dickey's had a better 2011 than Cain, let alone Lincecum. That's just ridiculous.

Edit: Coke to Dave.
   3. Danny Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:14 PM (#3931057)
Wow, total zone really hates the Mets this year. Dickey gets credited with 11 extra runs prevented due poor defense, despite already sporting a better-than-average BABIP.
   4. Austin Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:16 PM (#3931059)
Like everyone else, I have to say I'm perplexed by Dickey's bWAR this season. Are the park factors really screwed up somewhere? He hasn't allowed particularly few runs or pitched a particularly huge number of innings, and Citi Field is pretty close to neutral. I guess they're making a big correction for the Mets' poor team defense (-76 runs according to B-R). But considering that he's outperforming his peripherals this might be a case where Dave Cameron's argument - that defenses don't necessarily perform the same behind different pitchers in a one-season sample, so FIP is preferable - might apply.
   5. Javy Joan Baez (chris h.) Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:22 PM (#3931064)
Wow, total zone really hates the Mets this year. Dickey gets credited with 11 extra runs prevented due poor defense, despite already sporting a better-than-average BABIP.


Yeah, I think this is an instance where you have to consider limiting the "bonus" granted for a bad defense (as it were). In other words, if he's got a lower-than-typical BABIP, then that's fewer chances for the bad defense to screw up, right? Or am I missing something?
   6. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:29 PM (#3931071)
That's mitigated by his being a knuckleballer - you'd expect him to have a low BABIP (on average).
   7. karlmagnus Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:45 PM (#3931082)
Looks like a typical Wake season at around the same age to me. WAR is cuckoo -- Dickey was better last year, but has more WAR this year, while Wake has negative WAR. Stat has too much "noise" to be useful.

Where's the next knuckler? Dickey, even though he's only had 2 good years, is only 8 years younger than Wake.
   8. Kiko Sakata Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:54 PM (#3931087)
Where's the next knuckler?


Charlie Haeger is currently 27 and has pitched a bit in the majors (but not in 2011), although with pretty bad results (career major-league ERA+ of 67, ERA in AA/AAA this year of 5.44). But, of course, aging curves are pretty weird for knucklers, so maybe he can still fashion together a career.
   9. bigglou115 is not an Illuminati agent Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:59 PM (#3931092)
It seems that the original dERA had a special calculation for knuckleballers, maybe WAR should too?
   10. Random Transaction Generator Posted: September 20, 2011 at 07:59 PM (#3931093)
Where's the next knuckler?

Probably playing outfield for a A/AA team, even though he's 3 years older than everyone else on his team.
He doesn't know he's a knuckleball pitcher yet, but at the end of this season a manager is going to tell him that he doesn't have a future with this team at his current position, and he's probably going to be cut after the World Series. The player will sulk for about a week or so, and then will catch a highlight of Wakefield or Dickey pitching. He'll grab a baseball from his equipment bag, do some Googling for "knuckleball grip" and start playing around in his backyard/schoolyard.
   11. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: September 20, 2011 at 08:19 PM (#3931109)
Probably playing outfield for a A/AA team, even though he's 3 years older than everyone else on his team.
He doesn't know he's a knuckleball pitcher yet, but at the end of this season a manager is going to tell him that he doesn't have a future with this team at his current position, and he's probably going to be cut after the World Series. The player will sulk for about a week or so, and then will catch a highlight of Wakefield or Dickey pitching. He'll grab a baseball from his equipment bag, do some Googling for "knuckleball grip" and start playing around in his backyard/schoolyard.


Or he'll follow a path like Dickey's. He'll be a conventional pitcher who approaches 30 and becomes aware that he's not going to make it as a MLB regular with his current arsenal. He'll pick up the knuckler somewhere and then work on it for a year in the minors. Then he'll get drafted in the Rule 5 and soak up garbage innings at the back end of a bad team's roster for a season. After that it's just hard work, a little luck, and a non-guaranteed spring training invite or two.

EDIT: This suggestion comes up every once in a while -- every time a team has a guy who's smart and hard working and with a good arm but who doesn't pan out for some reason, the team should have someone teach him a knuckleball, then send him to the Arizona fall league or somewhere to see if it sticks at all. It would be a minimal investment that would be covered if you pull just one R.A. Dickey out of your slush pile.
   12. Steve Treder Posted: September 20, 2011 at 08:25 PM (#3931115)
This suggestion comes up every once in a while -- every time a team has a guy whose smart and hard working and with a good arm but who doesn't pan out for some reason, the team should have someone teach him a knuckleball, then send him to the Arizona fall league or somewhere to see if it sticks at all. It would be a minimal investment that would be covered if you pull just one R.A. Dickey out of your slush pile.

It's a zero downside, possibly high upside policy. Far too rational, apparently, to be applied by actual human beings.
   13. HowardMegdal Posted: September 20, 2011 at 08:34 PM (#3931124)
This suggestion comes up every once in a while -- every time a team has a guy whose smart and hard working and with a good arm but who doesn't pan out for some reason, the team should have someone teach him a knuckleball, then send him to the Arizona fall league or somewhere to see if it sticks at all. It would be a minimal investment that would be covered if you pull just one R.A. Dickey out of your slush pile.

It's a zero downside, possibly high upside policy. Far too rational, apparently, to be applied by actual human beings.


I'd employ it as often as I'd send my bats without a position to the AFL in catching gear.

To the points raised- the article was less about Dickey being better than Lincecum and Cain, and more about performing at roughly their level for a bargain price. However, the Met defense has been just awful this year. Really, not a plus defensive performer anywhere on the diamond. I wouldn't be shocked if that defensive allowance were accurate.
   14. Greg K Posted: September 20, 2011 at 08:54 PM (#3931139)
I've always been curious about why more guys don't screw around with a knuckle-ball. The guy who founded and manages the baseball club I'm in is a good example. He was a university scholarship pitcher about 10 years ago and he wasn't good enough to get drafted or anything, but he taught himself to pitch left-handed (a natural righty) and bat switch, and throw a knuckleball. I don't know if he's just a pitching savant, or had a lot of time on his hands or something, but it always seems odd to me that more 30 year old AAA pitchers don't try out the old knuckler.
   15. just plain joe Posted: September 20, 2011 at 08:57 PM (#3931141)
He'll grab a baseball from his equipment bag, do some Googling for "knuckleball grip" and start playing around in his backyard/schoolyard.


If he has played baseball long enough, and proficiently enough, to pitch professionally, the chances are that he already is familiar some variation of a knuckleball grip. I would be willing to bet that almost everyone who has played baseball at the Little League level or above has experimented with trying to throw a knuckleball at least once or twice. I could throw one in high school; of course only about 1 of every 25 would actually "knuckle". The rest would just sort of spin like a half-speed fastball, becoming an open invitation to an extra base hit (which is why I never threw one in a real game).
   16. karlmagnus Posted: September 20, 2011 at 09:01 PM (#3931148)
The problem is that without 3-4 active knucklers in the majors, you may find GMs and managers won't take the chance, given the inevitable difficulties of getting established. When Wake came up, Charlie Hough and Candiotti were still active and everybody had seen/played against the Niekros. Dickey is a pretty faint flickering flame compared to those guys.
   17. Steve Treder Posted: September 20, 2011 at 09:29 PM (#3931185)
If he has played baseball long enough, and proficiently enough, to pitch professionally, the chances are that he already is familiar some variation of a knuckleball grip. I would be willing to bet that almost everyone who has played baseball at the Little League level or above has experimented with trying to throw a knuckleball at least once or twice. I could throw one in high school; of course only about 1 of every 25 would actually "knuckle".

Good god yes, everybody fools around with a knuckler when playing catch, whether they're a pitcher or not. And a curve. I even used to fart around with a screwball, but that kind of hurt.

My knuckler would knuckle fairly reliably -- but it was essentially a formless lob, and I had no idea where it was going. If I exerted enough arm action/velocity to be able to actually control it, then it would lazily spin, and be the world's juiciest gopher ball.
   18. Javy Joan Baez (chris h.) Posted: September 20, 2011 at 09:34 PM (#3931191)
I farted around with one as a youngster, but not only did I have absolutely no idea where it would go; I couldn't even be sure it'd reach the goddamned plate.

Still, I can see why it would be something worth trying if a guy's basically going to wash out otherwise.
   19. zack Posted: September 20, 2011 at 09:34 PM (#3931192)
Wasn't Dickey's "Thing" pitch from his pre-knuckle days basically a knuckleball anyway? Anyone remember that?

Plus, Dickey is not a conventional knuckleballer in that he throws pretty hard, as hard as he did as a conventional pitcher. His primary knuckler is relatively hard (70's-ish I think), but he throws a traditional flutter as well.
   20. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: September 20, 2011 at 09:43 PM (#3931198)
The problem is that without 3-4 active knucklers in the majors, you may find GMs and managers won't take the chance, given the inevitable difficulties of getting established. When Wake came up, Charlie Hough and Candiotti were still active and everybody had seen/played against the Niekros. Dickey is a pretty faint flickering flame compared to those guys.


I think that a knuckleballer will be given less leeway than a regular pitcher, but I don't think he wouldn't be given a chance. Looking back at the three recent marginal knuckleballers to pitch in the majors (Haeger, Charlie Zink, and Jared Fernandez -- who am I missing?), it seems that only Fernandez should have gotten more of a chance than he did. Maybe the Sox should have called up Zink earlier in 2008 or given him another start, but his record of success in the minors was pretty short, and his one start was memorably bad. I think that the big problem is that none of the recent knuckleballers to make it to the high minors have been anything like as good as Dickey or Wakefield.
   21. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 20, 2011 at 09:58 PM (#3931210)
To the points raised- the article was less about Dickey being better than Lincecum and Cain, and more about performing at roughly their level for a bargain price.

To be clear, I agree with you on this (and tried to acknowledged this point in #1 before diverting the conversation).

That's mitigated by his being a knuckleballer - you'd expect him to have a low BABIP (on average).

That's interesting. His BABIP was only .289 vs .280 last year, so I found it hard to justify a 15-run swing in defensive support (actually a bit higher if you prorate 2010 to a full season). I mean, .289 vs .280 is only about 5 hits a season. But if BABIP is down across the league, then that could mean a bigger change in defensive support for Dickey.

Anyway, I'm not going to dismiss the number out-of-hand, but I'd want to look into the components more.
   22. MM1f Posted: September 21, 2011 at 09:24 AM (#3931704)
Or he'll follow a path like Dickey's. He'll be a conventional pitcher who approaches 30 and becomes aware that he's not going to make it as a MLB regular with his current arsenal.


Dickey has the added "weird path" bonus of being born without an elbow ligament. I hope this isn't knowledge so common that it is boring for me to repeat but Dickey, as a conventional pitcher, was a first round pick out of the University of Tennessee. As such, Baseball America put him (and some other guys) on the magazine's cover in posed picture. A Rangers' team doctor saw the picture and saw that, in the picture, Dickey was holding his arm in a way that a normal fellow shouldn't be able to. He then ordered tests and it turns out that Dickey was born without an important elbow ligament.

Long story short... I'm glad Dickey is having a good late career reinvention. If anyone deserves the baseball gods to smile on 'em, it's him. He has been dealt some weird cards but it is tremendously impressive how he has not only stayed in the game, but become a difference maker.
   23. Athletic Supporter is USDA certified lean Posted: September 21, 2011 at 09:34 AM (#3931707)
Especially given the personal stories here, it seems like the explanation is very simple: lots of people do try to be knuckleballers. It's just really, really hard to actually throw a good knuckleball (in both the senses of being hard to hit and being a strike enough of the time) consistently.
   24. Dan Posted: September 21, 2011 at 09:46 AM (#3931708)
Dickey has the added "weird path" bonus of being born without an elbow ligament. I hope this isn't knowledge so common that it is boring for me to repeat but Dickey, as a conventional pitcher, was a first round pick out of the University of Tennessee. As such, Baseball America put him (and some other guys) on the magazine's cover in posed picture. A Rangers' team doctor saw the picture and saw that, in the picture, Dickey was holding his arm in a way that a normal fellow shouldn't be able to. He then ordered tests and it turns out that Dickey was born without an important elbow ligament.


Not just any ligament, but the UCL, the same ligament that is typically stressed by the pitching motion and that Tommy John surgery replaces.

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