R.A. Dickey made history last night, and a lot of it. Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez said it best while the knuckleballer was busy one-hitting the Orioles at Citi on Monday; this is uncharted territory, not just for a Mets pitcher, but any MLB pitcher, period. With his latest masterpiece, Dickey became the fastest Met to get to 10 games over .500 (68 games), beating Tom Seaver’s record by nine games, and no pitcher has given up no earned runs and struck out at least eight batters in each start. You read that right, that’s never happened.
With his recent hot streak, Dickey has certainly put himself in elite company. There is a great article by ESPN Stats & Info that breaks down how special of a season the Mets knuckleballer is having. To put it in perspective, there have been four pitchers since 1966 to have 11+ wins, an ERA below 2.50, and average at least one strikeout per inning through their first 14 starts of a season. Those pitchers are Sandy Koufax (1966), Pedro Martinez (1999), Randy Johnson (2000), and Francisco Liriano (2006). Now, Dickey is the fifth pitcher to join that club, with his 11 wins, 2.00 ERA, and his K/9 sitting at 1.04.
However, Dickey wouldn’t be sitting where he is this season before his last six starts, which has included one earned run, 63 strike outs,
and 5 walks since May 22nd. Almost two weeks ago, I talked about how Dickey’s success can be attributed to his pitch selection and how he’s unlike any other knuckleballer we’ve ever seen play professional baseball. During his last six starts, Dickey has used his primary pitch in such a way that has baffled hitters like never before.
Unlike his predecessors, who mainly used a slow-60 mph knuckleball to get hitters out, Dickey can manipulate a baseball to both speed up or slow down the main pitch in his arsenal, and has recently figured out how to make it rise on it’s way to the strike zone. It’s hard enough trying to hit a knuckleball at one speed, but not knowing what the speed will be or the general location throws a whole new conundrum for Major League hitters.
Now that the new rising knuckler has been perfected by the Mets right-hander, he’s been using it more than ever. Last night was the third straight start that Dickey has thrown a knuckleball 80+ mph more than 30 times, and has thrown 106 pitches of that type in his previous three outings. Before this stretch, his single-game high for 80+ mph knucklers was 17, and he only threw the pitch at that speed 100 times in his first 100 starts. Since he became the first NL pitcher to throw back-to-back one-hitters since 1944, one would think Dickey will keep doing what he’s doing. In addition to that, 11 of Dickey’s career-high 13 punch-outs came on the knuckleball, and the Orioles went 0-for-7 with 7 K’s on balls thrown up in the zone, six of which were the dancing bear.
The sign of a great player is one who can always find something to improve on. Even though no pitcher has been better than R.A. Dickey in the last month (yes, that includes Matt Cain), he’s still finding things that he didn’t do well in his starts. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard R.A. say last week that he thinks he can pitch better this season. That’s a joke, right? Even so, last night, it was stated that he threw 10 knuckleballs that didn’t act the way they should have. Let’s be honest, nobody, including the Oriole hitters, knew that, but Dickey did. That’s what great players do; even though they’re on top of the game, they find ways to not only stay on top, but continue to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Who the National League All-Star game starting pitcher will be has been a hot debate over the last couple of weeks, with not only Dickey, but Cain and Gio Gonzalez‘s name being brought up. However, last night’s performance should have sealed the deal. Neither one of those pitchers can match what Dickey has done, and he deserves the start. Let’s hope Terry Collins can grab the ear of Tony LaRussa enough to convince him since he was named on the NL All-Star coaching staff; that is, if he needs any convincing in the first place.
Topics: 2012 All-Star Game, Back-to-back One Hitters, Francisco Liriano, Knuckleball, New York Mets, Pedro Martinez, Pitch Selection, R.A. Dickey By The Numbers, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Terry Collins, Tony LaRussa