"Behind every successful man stands a surprised mother-in-law." -- Voltaire
When the Mets signed R.A. Dickey to a minor league contract last winter it was an interesting move for a couple of reasons. First, Dickey went to the same high school as Sam Page, albeit like two decades earlier. Second, knuckleballers are exceedingly rare and therefore awesome. The Mets hadn't had a pitcher who threw predominantly knuckleballs since Dennis Springer in 2000, and he made just two starts and allowed 11 runs.
Already propelled by the knuckleball-related intrigue, Dickey's fan club continued to grow after he threw a one-hitter in Triple A, allowing a leadoff hit and then retiring the final 27 batters in succession. He was eventually called up and made his Mets debut on May 19 against the Nationals. Dickey pitched well but was a victim of offensive, um, impotence in a 5-3 loss. Following that start,we quickly learned what a headline goldmine Dickey was.
Once the unbridled delight of euphemistic headline writing ran its course, there was the Photoshop contest to end all Photoshop contests. The results were mind-blowing. Dickey was officially a cult hero.
Oh, he pitched pretty well, too. Here are his monthly splits.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Dickey's season was his walk rate, 2.17, which ranked 11th among starters in all of baseball. That's impressive control for anyone, let alone someone whose primary pitch moves so unpredictably that the art of catching it has its own Wikipedia section. Despite throwing a "hard" knuckler, Dickey doesn't strike out many batters, but he can get away with that a bit by keeping the walks down.
It's reasonable to suggest that, on balance, a knuckleballer probably doesn't get hit as hard as your average traditional hurler, what with the ball moving about capriciously as hitters flail away at it. A pitcher's line drive rate is a pretty good measure of "hitability", i.e. how hard batters are making contact with his pitches, and Dickey's 16.9% line drive rate in 2010 was 31st among 91 qualified big league starters, right in between Kyles Davies and Kendrick. Essentially, Dickey was in the top third of baseball in "not getting hit hard", which is a pretty nice place to be.
At the plate, Dickey compiled a not-bad-for-a-pitcher-or-even-Alex-Cora .590 OPS this season, and his fielding seemed pretty good, too, as the low-intensity knuckleball delivery leaves him in great position to defend the middle infield.
Dickey is arbitration eligible in 2011, his last such year before hitting free agency. The Mets will surely bring him back for at least next season, and they will probably try to lock him up to a below-market two-or-three-year deal at maybe $5 million a year. That would give Dickey the job security he has never had and the Mets a mid-rotation starter at an affordable price.
Here is how everyone voted.
|Alex||R.A. Dickey||Hisanori Takahashi||Angel Pagan|
|Eno||R.A. Dickey||Hisanori Takahashi||Mike Pelfrey|
|Eric||R.A. Dickey||Angel Pagan||Hisanori Takahashi|
|James||R.A. Dickey||Ike Davis||Angel Pagan|
|Joe||R.A. Dickey||Ike Davis||Francisco Rodriguez|
|Mark||R.A. Dickey||Hisanori Takahashi||Angel Pagan|
|Matthew||R.A. Dickey||Angel Pagan||Hisanori Takahashi|
|Rob||R.A. Dickey||Hisanori Takahashi||Chris Carter|
|Sam||Hisanori Takahashi||Ike Davis||R.A. Dickey|
Sam expected big things of Dickey so he only finished third on that ballot.
Here is the final vote tally.