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Mets starter R.A. Dickey on pace for historic knuckleball season

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer


Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey is white-hot right now. He dominated the Nationals Thursday and has now thrown 24 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. His season-long totals are sparkling, as he sits with a 9-1 record, 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 78 strikeouts in 81 innings. Of his 12 starts, 11 have been of the statistical "quality start" variety. The Mets are 10-2 in his starts and Dickey is certainly headed to Kansas City for the All-Star Game next month. It would be his first.

As he continues to throw gem after gem, however, I can't help but look a bit further than the All-Star Game.

Being that Dickey is a knuckleballer -- by which I mean he predominantly throws the knuckleball, as this category doesn't include pitchers who only occasionally mix one in -- we could be looking at an historic season. Dickey is well on his way to having the best season a knuckleballer has had since 1980.

Why 1980? Because Hall of Famer Phil Niekro has the market cornered on great seasons by knuckleballers and his last great season was 1979.

Here are the five best seasons by a knuckleballer since 1980, in order -- using WAR (Wins Above Replacement player) by baseball-reference.com:

Knuckleballer, year
IP/CG
W-L
ERA
WHIP
K/9
Phil Niekro, 1982
270/16
17-12
2.47
1.07
4.3
Charlie Hough, 1985
250.1/14
14-16
3.31
1.12
5.1
Tom Candiotti, 1988
216.2/11
14-8
3.28
1.28
5.7
Tom Candiotti, 1993
213.2/2
8-10
3.12
1.23
6.5
Tim Wakefield, 1995
195.1/6
16-8
2.95
1.18
5.5

Dickey's "on pace" numbers for this season: 230 innings pitched, two complete games, 25-2 record, 2.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 8.7 K/9. Note that the record and rate stats would be the best in each of those categories compared to the above five seasons. Dickey has also currently amassed 2.3 wins above replacement, baseball-reference version, in 12 starts and he's on pace to make 34 starts. In the above chart, Niekro had 6.0 WAR and Wakefield had 4.7 WAR, with the others obviously falling between. And Dickey's pace places him a sliver above Niekro.

Next, there's this: If NL Cy Young voting were held right now, R.A. Dickey would absolutely be in the mix. In fact, ESPN.com's "Cy Young Predictor" has Dickey as first in the NL.

Guess how many knuckleballers have ever won a Cy Young? Zero.

This isn't to say Dickey will absolutely keep up this pace. He's surely not going 25-2 over the course of the season, and with the unpredictability of the knuckleball -- for pitchers, catchers and hitters alike -- there's the chance that he has a few more bad outings like he had on April 18.

Still, he seems awfully locked in right now and it's hard to bet against him.

R.A. Dickey has emerged as one of the best stories of the 2012, and not just because he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this past offseason. Perhaps he keeps the storybook season going and makes history on the mound as well.

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