• R.A. - The One That Got Away

    On Thursday afternoon, R.A. Dickey tossed 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball for the Mets in a win over the first-place Nationals. The victory moved the knuckleballer's record to 9-1 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.44. Holding opponents to a .225 average and sporting a dazzling 78-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 81 innings, Dickey has to be considered a Cy Young front-runner in the National League, and he might start the All-Star Game.

    This is the best we've ever seen from the 37-year-old right-hander, but his effectiveness is nothing new. During his first two seasons with the Mets after joining up in 2010, he posted a 3.08 ERA over 383 innings. This after spending most of the first 14 years of his career struggling to stay in the majors. That included a stop in Minnesota his last stop before turning into a steady rotation anchor for the Mets.

    Dickey is one of the most fascinating stories in today's game, for various reasons. He's a born-again Christian and philanthropist. He doesn't have an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing elbow, yet still managed to be come a first-round draft pick in 1996. He recently climbed Mt. Kiliminjaro, along with his friend (and local media punching bag) Kevin Slowey. He also recently published a book in which he bravely details, among other things, his battle to overcome sexual abuse as a child.

    As a human interest story subject, you won't find many better. And the tale of Dickey's baseball career holds plenty of intrigue too.

    After failing to find much success as a conventional starter in his first decade as a pro, he became a full-time knuckleballer in 2006 with the Rangers. The process of completely overhauling his style as a pitcher, and learning to master a pitch that few in the sport's history have been able to effectively harness, was slow and fraught with turbulence. In his first start for Texas in '06, he gave up six home runs.

    The Rangers quickly bailed on the experiment, but clearly there were plenty of clubs that saw something in Dickey. He went through stints in the Milwaukee and Seattle organizations before latching on with the Twins in 2009.

    Pitching coach Rick Anderson spoke excitedly about the acquisition that year:

    "You know what's neat about him? He's a knuckleballer, but he's got enough fastball to get people out, or use when he's behind in the count. He threw a changeup to strike a guy out the other night. He has weapons."
    These are all attributes that have helped Dickey become a force in the Mets rotation, and the Twins deserve credit for recognizing them at the time.

    They also may deserve criticism for failing to move him along. Was it a bad coaching approach that kept the righty from turning the corner in Minnesota? Was it the decision to use him almost exclusively as a reliever rather than have him start? Or should the Twins have simply been more patient and given him additional time to harness the knuckler and refine his command, instead of dropping him after one forgettable season?

    I'm not sure there are any lessons to be taken from this situation. Dickey is a unique case. And while it's unfortunate that he couldn't find this success with the Twins, he's still a fun guy to root for, and along with his co-ace Johan Santana he makes it easy for fans in Minnesota to get behind the underdog Mets in the NL East.
    This article was originally published in blog: R.A. - The One That Got Away started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 56 Comments
    1. strumdatjag's Avatar
      strumdatjag -
      Someday, I hope to read a story about a born-again Buddhist baseball player, or recalcitrant atheist athlete, or the formation of the Fellowship of Hindu Athletes. Those would be remarkable.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Would the old House of David baseball team suffice? That was a pretty interesting group of players from the early 1900's. How the catcher didn't step on his beard when he squated behind the plate was a pretty amazing feat.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I'm not up to date on new internet deriding, is the insult jackanape really back in fashion, or is Shakespeare once again required reading in school?
      It is if you're still a fan of Strongbad and the Cheat.
    1. Cap'n Piranha's Avatar
      Cap'n Piranha -
      How about the ultimate comeback to "Rick Anderson makes pitchers worse"...one Johan Santana.

      Before being selected in the rule 5 draft, Santana never pitched above A ball, compiling a 15-18 record across 294 innings (54 appearances, 48 starts). His ERA was 5.05, with a 1.39 WHIP, while compiling 274 strikeouts compared to 103 walks (8.4 k/9, 2.66 k/BB). He also gave up 26 homers (1 homer every 11.1 innings).

      With the Twins (excluding his brief stint in 2002 in AAA), Santana had a 93-44 record in 1308.1 innings (251 appearances, 175 starts). His ERA was 3.22, with a 1.09 WHIP, while putting up 1381 strikeouts against 364 walks (9.5 k/9, 3.79 k/BB). He gave up 144 big flies (1 homer every 9 innings).

      With the Mets, Santana is 43-27 in 668 innings (99 appearances, all starts). His ERA is 2.80, with a 1.16 WHIP, while getting 564 strikeouts and surrendering 185 walks (7.6 k/9, 3.05 k/BB), with 63 homers (1 every 10.2 innings).

      The only stats Johan has been better at with the Mets is ERA and homers/9. HOWEVER, if you take only the seasons where Santana was a starter for the Twins, you get the following;

      70-32, 2.89 ERA, .99 WHIP, 912.1 IP, 983 k, 198 BB (9.7k/9, 4.96 k/BB), 103 HR (1/9IP).

      So the Mets Santana is ahead on the same numbers, but not by much, while the other numbers with the Twins dwarf those with the Mets. This is only one example, but this is a clear-cut scenario where Santana was much better with the Twins than either before or after.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by Cap'n Piranha View Post
      How about the ultimate comeback to "Rick Anderson makes pitchers worse"...one Johan Santana.

      Before being selected in the rule 5 draft, Santana never pitched above A ball, compiling a 15-18 record across 294 innings (54 appearances, 48 starts). His ERA was 5.05, with a 1.39 WHIP, while compiling 274 strikeouts compared to 103 walks (8.4 k/9, 2.66 k/BB). He also gave up 26 homers (1 homer every 11.1 innings).

      With the Twins (excluding his brief stint in 2002 in AAA), Santana had a 93-44 record in 1308.1 innings (251 appearances, 175 starts). His ERA was 3.22, with a 1.09 WHIP, while putting up 1381 strikeouts against 364 walks (9.5 k/9, 3.79 k/BB). He gave up 144 big flies (1 homer every 9 innings).

      With the Mets, Santana is 43-27 in 668 innings (99 appearances, all starts). His ERA is 2.80, with a 1.16 WHIP, while getting 564 strikeouts and surrendering 185 walks (7.6 k/9, 3.05 k/BB), with 63 homers (1 every 10.2 innings).

      The only stats Johan has been better at with the Mets is ERA and homers/9. HOWEVER, if you take only the seasons where Santana was a starter for the Twins, you get the following;

      70-32, 2.89 ERA, .99 WHIP, 912.1 IP, 983 k, 198 BB (9.7k/9, 4.96 k/BB), 103 HR (1/9IP).

      So the Mets Santana is ahead on the same numbers, but not by much, while the other numbers with the Twins dwarf those with the Mets. This is only one example, but this is a clear-cut scenario where Santana was much better with the Twins than either before or after.
      Cueller is responsible for all of Santana's sucess. Liriano's too (although it's Anderson's fault when he's bad).
    1. James Richter's Avatar
      James Richter -
      Quote Originally Posted by shanewahl View Post
      Whoa. I will drop the PhD in Philosophy bomb here (which might explain why I spend so much time on a baseball site . . . ), but I have to at this point to note how impressed I am at the use of philosophers of logic and science in baseball threads. Damn.
      I think Dickey (and his buddy Slowey) would be proud to see himself discussed with such erudition. Like the anti-Souhan. Maybe we should start a book club!
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      Good as always, Nick. While I prefer it were with the Twins, I'm glad to see RA having success given all the stuff he's opened up about.

      As for the thrylos list, It's kind of like reading an editorial written by a hardcore member of one of the two major political parties about a candidate from the other. It's supported by facts and passion, but it's far too biased, selective and anecdotal to constitute the damning indictment of Anderson he concludes it is.

      You need to account for other variables that impact a pitcher's performance (as the pitching coach is not the only one or even the primary one), and at least attempt to balance it out with counterexamples. And while I don't have the time to do it, if one were so inclined, I would be that you could put together a similar list for just about any team for the last dozen years. You can't have a 100-man roster. Decisions have to be made about who to keep and who to let go. Inevitably, some guys you let go will catch on elsewhere and have some success.

      Also, it seems to me that if you're going to assess Anderson as a pitching coach, you'd at least want to take a peek at how his guys have fared relative to the competition. The Twins have pretty consistently ranked among the better teams in the AL in pitching, so I don't think the guy is completely worthless.

      And I say this as someone who favors bringing in a new coaching staff next year. Not becuase I'm in the "Gardy/Vavra/Anderson are idiots" crowd, I think they've all been solid, but I think things have gotten a bit stale, and it's time for a change.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I also don't mean to advocate for Rick Anderson, he's a great guy but I'm not sure he's getting the job done any longer.

      As for pitchers who pitched worse after leaving the Twins, I can think of Eric Milton, Mark Redmon, Juan Rincon, Boof Bonser, Eddie Guardado, Carlos Silva and while still good, not as good Johan Santana.
      It's always interesting when both sides of the argument are true.

      Johan's WAR for 2003-2007: 31.3 (#1 ranking for P)
      Joahn's WAR for 2008-2012: 12.7 (Scott Baker is 12.2 over the same time frame)



      Time for the Thrylos breakdown of Dan Warthen and the Mets.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      It is if you're still a fan of Strongbad and the Cheat.
      Good lord, I had to google that. I guess I don't get out enough, and by that I mean stay in and watch internet cartoons!
    1. TwinVike61's Avatar
      TwinVike61 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Good lord, I had to google that. I guess I don't get out enough, and by that I mean stay in and watch internet cartoons!
      Wow, I'm glad I'm not the only one who had no idea what that referred to...
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by TwinVike61 View Post
      Wow, I'm glad I'm not the only one who had no idea what that referred to...
      You haven't lived until you've been forced to watch multiple episodes of Teen Girl Squad with your 14 year old daughter. "I HAVE A CRUSH ON EVERY BOY!!!!!!!!"
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      Good lord, I had to google that. I guess I don't get out enough, and by that I mean stay in and watch internet cartoons!
      Good lord, nice assumptions cool guy. Clearly you've never spent much time on the internet at all.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      Good lord, nice assumptions cool guy. Clearly you've never spent much time on the internet at all.
      Or some others have spent too much...?
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      Or some others have spent too much...?
      Well it's nice to see you're finally keeping up.
    1. Krogher's Avatar
      Krogher -
      I picked him up during my fantasy-team draft for $1. I now know what the Vikes felt like when they got Cris Carter!
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Classic thrylos "analysis". One-sided garbage to support a belief. Intellectually dishonest crap.
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