|Are more memorable moments ahead for R.A. Dickey? (Getty Images)|
After days of speculation and negotiation, reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is going to be a Toronto Blue Jay. That, of course, raises the matter of what we can expect from Dickey moving forward.
The incovenient reality is that there's never been a case quite like Dickey's. He's an artisan of the most elusive, befuddling pitch in captivity, and he didn't break out until his mid-30s. All of that makes projecting him outward an uncommon challenge. But try we must!
Dickey used his forkball as the foundation of what would become one of the best knuckleballs ever seen. The pitch took years to master, but master it he did. While Dickey's skyscraping 2012 stands above his pre-existing work, he's been at another level for a while.
For instance, here are his combined numbers from 2010 and 2011: 383 IP, 3.08 ERA. So he was working at an "ace-like" level even before his work in 2012. What distinguishes his 2012 season is the leap in strikeout rate, from 5.8 in 2011 to 8.9 in 2012. Sustainable? Signs point to yes.
First, look to the tools we typically use to identify outlier pitching performances -- BABIP, home-run/fly-ball percentage, and percentage of base-runners stranded -- and you find little cause for concern. The BABIP and HR/FB numbers are in line with 2010-11 levels, and the strand rate is just modestly elevated. That strand rate may regress in 2013, but even if it does Dickey still figures to perform at a high level. Let's probe a little more deeply into why that appears to be the case ...
Courtesy of the most excellent BrooksBaseball.net, have a look at Dickey's velocity chart ...
As you can see, Dickey's knuckler (represented by the color ... lime? ochre? sad lime? jaundice?) has steadily added "oomph" over the years. That bodes well for his ability to sustain his success (knucklers in the high 70s/low 80s are simply unprecedented) -- adding mph at an age when conventional pitchers are shedding them. Here's another good sign for Dickey ...
Dickey's vertical movement, after dipping a bit in 2010 and 2011, spiked this past season, back to 2008-09 levels. It must be noted that Dickey wasn't effective in 2008 and 2009, but the increased vertical movement in tandem with the improved command (substantially better control, substantially higher K%) he showed in 2012, suggest that one key to Dickey's surge has been his ability to harness that increased movement. Add it all up, and it looks like a knuckleball that's continuing to evolve.
It's no surprise, then, that Dickey least season went to his knuckle-piece more than 85 percent of the time, which is a career-high. There's no getting around the fact that Dickey is 38, but he almost exclusively throws a pitch that helps one to defy the typical aging curve. And that pitch has been getting even better. Even if his movement charts and gun readings plateau, Dickey's knuckler will remain one of the best go-to pitches in the game today.
Dickey may be a novelty, but he's a novelty who's very good at getting major-league hitters out. Expect that to continue in Toronto.