Legends On Deck

The Decline of R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey

In 2012, R.A. Dickey could seemingly do no wrong. In his third season with the Mets, the then 37 year old knuckleballer won the National League Cy Young Award, and became one of the game’s most popular players. Over 233.2 innings pitched, Dickey posted a 2.73 ERA and a 73 ERA-, which is 27% better than league average. He also racked up 230 Ks, which is by far a career high. This marked the third successful season in a row Dickey had with the Mets, as he posted a 2.84 ERA (with a 73 ERA-, the same as in 2012) in 2010, and a 3.28 ERA (with a 89 ERA-) in 2011.

However, after his Cy Young season, Dickey was famously traded to the Toronto Blue Jays (as part of a package, although he was clearly the centerpiece) in return for, among other players, both Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, two youngsters who are currently on the Mets roster. Since landing on Toronto, Dickey has not been the same player, as he has posted ERAs of 4.21 (102 ERA-), 3.71 (94 ERA-), and 4.96 (125 ERA-) in 2013, 2014, and 2015 (so far). Even after pitching 7.1 innings of one run ball against his old team, the Mets last Thursday, Dickey’s 2015 season has not gone well so far. I will now proceed to dig deep into Dickey’s statistics to figure out what factors have led to his almost immediate decline since he became a Blue Jay.

(Note: I decided to use ERA and ERA- to measure Dickey’s performance instead of either FIP and FIP-, or xFIP and xFIP- due to the fact that knuckleball pitchers generally have lower BABIPs against them than regular pitchers, which often times leads to their ERA estimators consistently being higher than their actual ERAs. Throughout the six seasons of Dickey’s that I am studying, his ERA has been lower than his FIP each time, and has been lower than his xFIP all but once).

When examining R.A. Dickey’s three successful seasons as a Met, it became apparent that he achieved his success differently in his first two seasons than he did in his final season with the team. In 2010 and 2011, Dickey posted very impressive BB% to compensate for his mediocre strikeout rates. In 2012, he was able to sustain his low BB% while raising his K% considerably. During his three seasons as a Met, his BB% was always between 5.8% and 6.2%. However, his K% increased from 14.6% in 2010 and 15.3% in 2011, up to 24.8% in 2012. Dickey’s 19% K%-BB% was the third best in the major leagues in 2012, behind Max Scherzer and Cliff Lee.

In 2010 and 2011, Dickey was also much more of a groundball pitcher than he was in 2012, generating ground ball % (GB%) of 55.1% in 2010 and 50.8% in 2011, compared to a 46.1% GB% in 2012. Also, during those first two seasons, he benefited from the friendly confines of Citi Field (where the fences had yet to be moved in) by posting below average HR/FB rates. In 2012, his HR/FB ratio would increase, as would his fly ball % (FB%) and line drive % (LD%). However, his previously noted increase in strikeouts was enough to offset these developments, and he posted his best season yet. His 73 ERA- was tied for sixth best in the major leagues.

Once he landed in Toronto, Dickey lost a lot of his trademark control that was so valuable to him as a Met. His BB% has increased to 7.5% in 2013, 8.1% in 2014, and 8.9% so far in 2015. This is a dramatic increase from the 5.8% to 6.2% range that his BB% was in as a Met. Even in his successful start against the Mets last Thursday, Dickey walked five batters in 7.1 innings! As a Blue Jay, Dickey’s K% decreased from a career high 24.8% in 2012 down to 18.8%, 18.9%, and 15.2% in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively. It should be noted K% during his first two seasons as a Blue Jay were actually higher than they were in his first two seasons as a Met, as were his K%-BB%, despite the increase in BB%.

However, Dickey’s groundball % (GB%) further decreased from his final year as a Met (where it had already declined from previous levels), and has been in the 40.3% to 42% range in his three seasons in Toronto. As a result, his fly ball% (FB%) has increased, and his HR/FB ratio has remained above average, as it was in 2012. The increase in HR/FB ratio was probably due to the smaller ballpark dimensions he had at home after his 2011 season. His left on base % (LOB%) also decreased significantly, regressing downward significantly from the high number of runners he stranded in his three seasons as a Met, as his LOB% has been roughly league average in Toronto. Dickey has also generally allowed more hard contact in Toronto, as his hard% has been 29.6%, 26.5%, and 25.9% from 2013-2015, compared to only 21.5% in 2012, per Fangraphs.

In conclusion, there have been many factors that have led to Dickey’s demise since he joined the Blue Jays in 2013. The most obvious one would be his increased BB%, which has gone from being impressive to very average. Although his K% was actually higher in 2013 and 2014 with Toronto than it was in 2010 and 2011 with the Mets, there has been a further change in the type of contact Dickey has allowed. His GB% (groundball %) decreased tremendously in 2012, and decreased even further in the three years afterwards, once he joined Toronto. Dickey basically switched from being a groundball pitcher to a fly ball one, and due to the switch in stadiums from the spacious Citi Field (which was especially so before the 2012 season) to the smaller Rogers Center, this did not work in his advantage.

His HR/FB ratio also increased after 2011, and although he was able to have his best season in 2012, immediately after it increased (mainly due to the fact that his K% also skyrocketed that year), he was not able to sustain that success in Toronto. Sadly for Dickey, his K% has decreased since 2012, and in 2015 it has gone all the way down to roughly his 2010-11 levels, while unfortunately being paired with the highest BB% he has posted in any of the six seasons under review, much higher than he ever had as a Met.

This may be the key reason why Dickey has completely imploded in 2015, as he has a 4.96 ERA and a 125 ERA- so far. Other factors have also hurt Dickey, such as the regression of his LOB% and an increase in % of hard contact allowed. However, the two most glaring factors that have led to Dickey’s decline have been his loss of control and his switch from being a groundball pitcher to fly ball one. He hasn’t been able to successfully make either transition without the high K% he posted in 2012.

Dickey has still served as a decent innings eater in his first two seasons as a Blue Jay, before completely imploding this season. However, the way his numbers are trending, it does not seem like he will be much more better in the future, and may actually continue to pitch poorly like he has in 2015, despite getting the win against the Mets, his old team, last week.

Steve Berlin

Steve Berlin

Steve is a diehard baseball fan (Lets Go Mets!) who lives in New Jersey. Originally from Brooklyn, hegraduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics. Steve loves to focus on the sabermetrics side of baseball, as he grew up in the so- called "Moneyball era".He is also an avid music listener, and is always willing to debate music or sports.
Steve Berlin