The Phillies’ Cole Hamels turned in another spectacular outing last night, tossing a 4-hit, 8-inning shutout to lead his team to a 4-1 victory. It was Hamels’s 8th quality start of the season and 32nd since the beginning of last year, pushing him ahead of two other National League pitchers whom he was tied with before yesterday. The first is Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw. The second is a man whose inclusion in the same sentence as Hamels and Kershaw would seem downright blasphemous to outsiders. Mets fans, on the other hand, know this man is the real deal.
Yes, R.A. Dickey has thrown 31 quality starts since the beginning of last season. Monday night’s start was one of his best of the year: he went the Solid Seven against the Pirates and struck out a career-high 11 batters. Dickey has had his famous knuckleball dancing spectacularly this season, so much so that he deserves to let it dance on the biggest stage in baseball: the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City.
In his nine starts so far this season, Dickey is 6-1 with a 3.45 ERA. Win-Loss Record is a misleading statistic (did he seem like an 8-13 pitcher in 2011?), but it’s nice to see it helping R.A.’s case this year. That 3.45 ERA is misleading as well: on paper it looks just okay until you consider that Dickey’s had just one bad outing in 2012. He allowed 8 runs in 4 innings a month ago in Atlanta, when the rain was falling and his knuckleball couldn’t sit still. Take away that start (his only loss) and his ERA goes down to a mere 2.38.
If Dickey has an Achilles in his pitching, it’s the longball: he’s allowed eight home runs in nine starts in 2012. But he’s gotten that problem under control recently as well: three of those homers came in the Atlanta start, and he’s only allowed one drive in his last four starts. Whereas the longball has come down recently, the strikeouts have been increasing dramatically: 19 Ks in his last 13 innings and 51 in 57 1/3 frames this season.
Finally, there’s the matter of that recently popular stat that links R.A. to the likes of Hamels and Kershaw: the quality start. Developed by John Lowe for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1985, a pitcher earns a QS every time he pitches at least six innings and gives up three earned runs or less. In other words, when a starter gives his team a good chance to win the ballgame, it’s a quality start. In nine outings this year, Dickey has eight QSs next to his name, tying him for first in the National League with five others (including Hamels and Roy Halladay) and placing him ahead such aces as Kershaw, Mark Buehrle, Matt Cain, and Stephen Strasburg.
With Tim Wakefield’s retirement after last season, Dickey became the last knuckleball pitcher in the major leagues. That floating duck of a pitch has worked to his advantage: hitters never see it, and its unpredictability throws them off their rhythm, sometimes for games at a time. R.A. has worked his magic ever since he first arrived in Flushing in 2010, and except for a brief hiccup early last season, he has dominated the National League with a pitch that belongs on Dancing with the Stars. In addition to picking up his option for next season, the Mets should campaign hard for R.A. Dickey to earn a spot on the team Tony La Russa will field at Kauffman Stadium in July. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played before then and anything can happen, but like the graceful motion of his spherical weapon, Dickey shows no sign of stopping any time soon.