Number Four Starter
R.A. Dickey – 2012
Initially a traditional (non-knuckleball) pitcher, R.A. Dickey was drafted in 1996 by the Texas Rangers. He worked his way up to the bigs in 2001, but just couldn’t stick.
Bouncing between the minors and the big leagues while continuing to lose velocity each season due to the lack of an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, Dickey turned to the knuckleball in 2006, reinventing himself ten years after being drafted.
He began his new knuckleball experiment in a 2006 big league start, but gave up six homers in the process and promptly got sent back down to the minor leagues yet again. Dickey realized he would have to start from scratch and truly master this new pitch if he was going to stick around in baseball.
That year Dickey started twenty-six games for the Mets and sported a 2.84 ERA over 174.1 innings and his confidence grew. Then in 2011, Dickey started thirty-two games over 208.2 innings, further honing his knuckleball prowess.
Finally, in 2012 Dickey’s knuckleball planets aligned.
Dickey’s transition from a solid major league pitcher his first two years with the Mets to a Cy Young-caliber ace in 2012 caught fans by surprise. So much so that even the most optimistic Mets fan had difficulty including Dickey amongst the league’s top arms in their minds. Sure, he did the same thing that they did, but he went about it differently.
He was a knuckleballer.
Just as the pitch itself is flighty and unpredictable, knuckleball pitchers often seem to be as well. Sometimes the pitcher controlled the pitch and sometimes it was the other way around.
So, even when R.A. (which I’m pretty sure stands for Rising Apple) got into his Cy Young groove assuming that he’d keep it up all season may have been deemed a bit presumptuous at first. But he did.
Gem after gem, Dickey separated himself from the knuckleball pitfalls of inconsistency and ineffectiveness that he had fallen privy to varying degrees in the past.
Once Dickey worked the knuckleball’s finer points out he was also able to exploit its advantages. In addition to the dancing motion the pitch challenged batters with, he wasn’t committing maximum effort to every pitch like most pitchers of the time. He was able to pitch more games while pitching deeper into those games because of it. He was also able to avoid injury due to less stress on his arm.
Along those lines, Dickey led the National League in games started, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, and strikeouts in 2012. He also won 20 games, finished with a 2.73 ERA and had a 1.05 WHIP.
He had a 44 2/3 scoreless inning streak, which included back to back one-hit masterpieces. The first of which I witnessed in person in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Dickey had finally become the major league ace he always strived to be, even if his path was not the standard one. And the Mets capitalized on his success, big time.
Just a month after being named the National League Cy Young Award winner the Mets completed a trade with the Blue Jays to ship Dickey to Toronto. And though it may have been an unexpected ending, for the Mets and their fans it was a happy one.
The Mets received both current rotation anchor, Noah Syndergaard, and ever-popular Cy Young trade piece, Travis d’Arnaud, back from Toronto for Dickey. R.A., however, never again quite matched the 2012 magic that secured his place in Mets history and his place as the number four starter in the Mets all-time starting rotation.