Knuckle up for safety: the Dickey deep dive

 

I have to apologize in advance to my kids who don’t exist yet for missing their college graduation. I’m sorry, Dennis, Summer and Latavius.

There’s no doubt that R.A. Dickey’s 130 career starts with the Toronto Blue Jays shaved valuable years off my life. I can already feel my blood pressure plummet now that Dickey is finally no longer a Blue Jay.

Never in my life, have I ever not-loved a Blue Jay so much. I didn’t even think it was possible.

Eric Hinske? I thought, those power numbers were only gonna go up! Shea Hillenbrand? It was probably all a misunderstanding. Raul Mondesi? God reached down and touched his right arm. David Wells? Look! Fat, hung-over guys everywhere stood a chance. Lyle Overbay? First basemen don’t need to hit home runs. B.J. Ryan? Okay, found the exception.

Remember that scene from The Office, the Goodbye Toby episode, when Steve Carell serenades Paul Lieberstein with a parody of Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger? Well that’s exactly how I feel right now.

 

Goodbye, Dickey it’s been nice (not really),

Hope you find your paradise.

 

Now that Dickey will never don another Blue Jays jersey again, I thought we could relive just how horrendous he was. I forced myself to go through every miserable box score from his four tortuous seasons with the Jays to dig up some of his, finest work. It was painful and it was depressing; but I sucked it up and it was well worth it.

Enjoy (?).

Let’s dial it back to 2012. We all knew where we were when the Jays traded for the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner (ironically it happened a day before my birthday, Dec. 16.). The Jays sent John Buck and prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra to the New York Mets for Josh Thole and Dickey.

At the time, the trade didn’t look like the 15-car pile up at the base of an erupting volcano that it is now in hindsight.

Yes, the Jays’ front office gave up a whack of talent. Nobody expected Syndergaard to turn into the third best pitcher in the NL by the age of 24 and nobody expected Dickey to turn into one of the most fraudulent Cy Young winners of all time. Dickey was the final big move for the Jays who were going all in after acquiring a boatload of win-now players from the Miami Marlins.

Unfortunately, Syndergaard did turn into one of the best pitchers in the NL and Dickey turned into the walking piece of mediocrity; he racked up a 49-52 record with a 4.05 earned run average with the blue birds. He never came remotely close to resembling the pitcher that went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA in 2012, which included a pair of one-hitters and a trip to the all-star game (he still might be crying he didn’t get the start in).

The other end of the sword that knifed the Jays every time Dickey toed the rubber was his partner in crime, Thole.

There are some catchers that can handle the knuckle, and some that simply can’t. When the Jays acquired Dickey, J.P. Arencibia caught Dickey during the home opener and clanked several pitches. That battery wasn’t going to last. Arencibia quickly broke the franchise record for most past balls in one game (3).

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While Thole might have kept more knuckle balls in front of him, he certainly wasn’t Pudge behind the dish, only throwing 16.75 per cent of runners out in Toronto (part of that does relate on trying to catch a slow knuckle ball). But where he really hurt the Jays was at the plate. In 473 plate appearances, Thole built a Marriott at the Mendoza Line. He hit 0.200 with 24 RBI and two measly home runs. It was almost like the Jays were playing in the NL when he was up. Thole hit a putrid 0.169 last season — Clayton Kershaw hit 0.174. His near-negative batting average will not be missed.

Now, to the goods.

Queue the Sarah McLachlan and let I Will Remember You rain from your speakers as we relive some of the very — best, from Dickey.

It was the start of the 2013 season and the horizon finally looked bright for the Jays. They were finally making an honest run at the postseason. Their biggest acquisition, Dickey, was awarded the season opening start in front of a rabid and starved crowd as they hosted the Cleveland Indians, who went 68-94 the season prior, at the Rogers Centre.

Oh, what a site it was pregame. Talking heads from Sportsnet were down at field level during batting practice, talking to players, owners and anyone with a Jays hat on. Understandably, the Jays looked like contenders on Day 1 of the season.

Mark Buehrle was presented with his 2012 Gold Glove Award and Dickey was presented with his Cy Young before opening pitch.

The buzz lasted two innings. Dickey gave up a lead off hit to Michael Brantley. A pair of passed balls, a groundout from Lonnie Chisenhall and a two-out single from the nine hitter Drew Stubbs, and the Indians jumped in front 2-0. Asdrubal Cabrera came up in the fifth and cranked a two-run job to deep right field (this is a reoccurring theme) and that was all she wrote. Dickey’s start was the biggest let down since the Andrew Raycroft trade.

So what? Who cares? It’s only the first game, big deal.

Dickey’s second career start for the Blue Jays also came at the Rogers Centre, this time against the Boston Red Sox.

Part of this blusterous offseason was due to Blue Jays manager John Farrell skipping town for Boston. Leaving the organization that gave him his first chance to manage a team mere weeks after the season expired.

This was the Jays first chance to clench their collective fists and show people that they weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. We are the Toronto Blue Jays! You just don’t disrespect us like that!!

After splitting the first two games in the series, Dickey took the mound for the clincher with Farrell peeking out from the visitor’s dugout while murdered pieces of Dubble Bubble.

Dickey wasted no time; the Red Sox opened with five-straight hits (three extra base hits) in the first. Dustin Pedroia singled home Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli doubled home Shane Victorino and Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks blasted a two-run shot to right field on a line scoring Napoli.

Dickey only lasted 4.2 innings, surrendering seven earned runs on 10 hits (two home runs).

Not the greatest Welcome To Toronto moment for Dickey.

Pitching in the AL is obviously tougher than the NL. I’m not taking anything away from his Cy Young award; Dickey was a boss in 2012. Saying that, he pitched in the cavernous Citi Field and faced an auto out each time through the order.

Coming into the AL, especially the AL East, you have to be able to command your pitches. Walks turn into three-run taters real quick. The AL East has been home to some of the greatest power hitters in the MLB over the past several years and the way the fields within the division are designed, home plate might as well be Cape Canaveral the way teams launch balls into orbit.

In his time battling in the AL, he was as unreliable as the command of his trick-pitch, going 13-25 with a 4.39, surrendering 31 homers in 320.1 innings, while striking out 223 and walking 121.

Aside from the win-loss record, the rest of those divisional numbers lineup fairly consistently with the rest of his career. But the Jays didn’t trade for that. The Jays brought in someone they thought they could roll out there to extend winning streaks and halt losing streaks within the division.

Dickey spent four years of his 14 seasons in Toronto. He gave up 114 dingers in a Jays uniform, accounting for nearly 50 per cent of his career total. You could argue that was in relation to Dickey pitching at the end of his career, into his 40s, but he his three seasons prior to coming over to the Jays were the best ERA’s of his career (2.84, 3.28, 2.73).

Things weren’t always peachy when Dickey faced teams outside of the vaunted division.

Riding a four-game losing streak, sitting in the basement of the AL East, the 10-21 Jays were looking for answers against the Seattle Mariners at the Rogers Centre.

Trailing 1-0 in the top of the fourth with Kendrys Morales standing on first, Dickey walked the corpse of Raul Ibanez and Kelly Shoppach on nine pitches, promptly giving up a soul-crushing grand slam to the pre-caveman bearded Dustin Ackley.

Dickey was yanked after the sixth following a solo shot by Michael Saunders and a RBI double from Shoppach. The books couldn’t close fast enough on him as he allowed seven earned with three homers, while striking out five, dropping Dickey to 2-5 to open his career in Toronto. It was the first of three outings that season where Dickey allowed three home runs.

The Chicago White Sox pants tightened whenever Dickey stepped on the mound. During his four years in the Big Smoke, Dickey went 2-4 against the Sox, with a 7.34 ERA and allowed a whiplash-inducing 18 long balls in 40.2 innings.

Their first crack at the fraud came June 10 (still in 2013) at then U.S. Cellular Field.

The Jays staked Dickey a 2-0 lead after the first inning. Even when they led 4-2 in the top of the fourth, Dickey couldn’t jog back out fast enough to blow a pair of leads.

The biggest inning in a ball game is the one on defence after a team scores.

The Big Donkey tagged Dickey for a solo shot and a three-run homer in the third and fourth inning.

The knuckler was saddled with only going five innings, allowing seven earned runs with no strikeouts.

Win-loss records can be a little deceiving for a pitcher, which is why agents invented quality starts. That way, they can walk into a managers office and say, “Hey, if it wasn’t for your wet paper bag of an offence, my guy would have won X amount of games.”

While Dickey went 49-52 with the Jays, he recorded 75 quality starts. In the same time frame, the fattest and oldest pitcher in the MLB, Bartolo Colon, went 62-40 with 82 quality starts.

Dickey just wasn’t getting it done.

The pinnacle of the 2013 for Dickey was when he entered the July 21st game on NINE DAYS REST. Dickey went six innings; the Jays lost 4-3. He gave up seven hits, including another hat trick for four earned runs and his 11th loss on the season.

The Jays also failed to reach the playoffs, finished DFL, 74-88, 23 games back.

But 2013 wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Nashville product. He won a Gold Glove for his efforts. Syndergaard doesn’t have a one — yet.

2014 was a much better year for Dickey. Still struggling with his command, he managed to go 14-13 with 173 punch-outs, 74 walks and only failed to make it out of the fourth inning once. The Jays finished 83-79, 13 games back in third place.

The thing with the knuckle ball — and I don’t know why the announcers keep bringing this up, it’s as if they have returned from the future and know what lies ahead in the seventh — is that you never know when the pitch is going to leave you.

Dickey could have been cruising along through the first five innings and then… BAM! Out of know where, a walk, a double and an upper deck shot and there goes another lead. There’s no drop in velocity, if a few pitches flatten out, that might be for effect or just a few wonky knucklers. But when the knuckle doesn’t knuckle it gets treated like someone who pinched drugs from Whitey Bulger, it gets whacked.

The Jays could see young arms coming to life in the minors. Guys like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Jeff Hoffman and Daniel Norris weren’t quite ready to haul big league innings. In the meantime, the Jays needed to keep Dickey around to stabilize the rotation.

Dickey’s Achilles heel wasn’t always the long ball with a pair of runners on. He found a new way to break the Jays during their 2015 home opener with the Tampa Bay Rays.

There were two on and two out in the top of the fourth. Dickey issued a four-pitch free pass to Tim Beckham, followed by a pair of full-count walks to David DeJesus and Steven Souza Jr, walking in the winning runs.

To be fair, the Jays only scrapped together two hits and one run off the Rays. Not exactly the definition of run support.

A week-and-a-half later, the Rays got Dickey again. This time the old fashioned way, by swatting a pair of two run crank jobs.

First, nobody out, the career 0.213 hitting Rene Rivera took Dickey off the hitters eye in centre, followed up by James Loney spraying one down the left field line. A leadoff triple to Cabrera followed by an RBI double to Evan Longoria sent Dickey into the showers before the fifth innings. He allowed seven earned runs in 4.2 innings on nine hits and didn’t strikeout anyone as his ERA ballooned to 5.25.

And really, he never carried himself like a former Cy Young winner. Which is understandable. I would have a distraught look on my face too if I was giving up more homeruns than a juicy Mark McGwire/Barry Bonds hitting clinic. He always looked, mopey and his cross between a flamed out goatee and chinstrap beard never was a good look. And he always pitched with a terrified look of what was about to happen on his face.

Dickey reached peak Dickey form in July of 2016. In three-straight starts against non-playoff teams, he allowed 17 earned runs.

The first was in Oakland against the Athletics. He went six innings, fie hits, five earned runs, three home runs, three walks and four Ks.

Next, at home against the Mariners, Dickey didn’t make it out of the third inning. The Jays lost 14-5 as he allowed seven hits, six earned while only striking out three.

Finally, again at home, against the basement-dwelling San Diego Padres, Dickey allowed six earned runs on four hits (two homers) while walking four and striking out five in 5.2 innings.

All of this while the Jays were trying to stay afloat with the Red Sox for the division lead.

As if Jays fans needed any reminders about the Dickey Trade, the Internet had a field day when the Jays headed to San Francisco May 11 last season.

Tied 4-4 after nine innings, Gibbons was running low on bench players by the 10th. Gibbons had two pitchers with NL experience on his bench; J.A. Happ and Dickey. Catcher Russell Martin drew a one out walk and Gibbons didn’t want to send reliever Jesse Chavez to bunt with only three bunts in 14 career plate appearances during his nine-year career. Gibbons felt much more comfortable running Dickey out there to bunt with his 27 career bunts in 238 plate appearances.

Dickey bunted the third pitch foul and struck out. Which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if…

Three hundred and eighty-three miles south, Syndergaard did something a pitcher hadn’t done in nine years.

Syndergaard sent a solo shot flying over the right-centre fence off rookie Kenta Maeda in the top of the third. Two innings later, he stepped up and thwacked a three-run dong over the left-centre fence, again, off Maeda.

On the same day Dickey struck out bunting, Syndergaard was busy taking a pair of trips to pump town.

But nothing — no tape measure shot or bases loaded walk — compares to his only start in the 2015 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals.

Still bitter about being yanked from his Game 4 up 7-1, a few outs shy of being in line for his first career playoff win against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series, Dickey took the mound looking to become the oldest pitcher to pick up said playoff win.

Down 2-1 in the series at home, in what could have been viewed as a must-win, Dickey went all Mount St. Helens in front of 50,000 fans.

This was his one moment to prove everyone wrong. Prove to the organization and the country that this trade wasn’t a complete nuclear failure.

Four pitches in, the Royals were up 2-0 thanks to a Ben Zobrist blast to deeeeep right field. Former Blue Jay Alex Rios joined the party in the second with a solo shot. A hit-batter, another walk and Dickey was done. The Royals scored five runs on five outs and 48 pitches. Dickey left his team with crater to dig out of, exasperating their bullpen. The final score ended up 14-2 and the lasting image was utility MLB-fringe player Cliff Pennington closing the game out, becoming the only position player to pitch in the ALCS.

With all that being said, it is glaringly obvious that the Jays do not win the 2015 American League East division and the 2016 Wild Card, reach back-to-back ALCS’s without Dickey’s contributions.

Dickey pitched over 200 innings in all but his final season in Toronto, a year where they decided to roll with a six-man rotation for much of it. That is incredibly valuable for a young rotation that was in the process of sprinkling in young arms from the farm system. He was a role model and brought a decade worth of Major League service time into the rotation. He is a father and a dad; he took his lumps, faced the media after the game and never stirred any commotion in the locker room unlike a few pitchers in the past. It was not completely Dickey’s fault the expectations were so high; the Jays were an organization that was blood thirsty for a playoff run. The team made moves to bring in win-now guys and they simply swung and missed on this one. He went out there every fifth day and tried to do his job the best way he knew how, and that’s all fans should be able to ask of their athletes.

Dickey’s best three seasons of his career came as a member of the Mets, his only time spent playing for a NL franchise. Maybe at 42, Dickey can find some of that old magic for the Atlanta Braves.

Be sure to tune in for the Jays first chance giving Dickey a taste of his own medicine when the Jays and Braves begin a four-game, home-and-home series May 17.

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