• 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. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      The timing of this is extremely funny. I have been having this to do thing in the back of my mind and look how many pitchers performed better when they left the Twins (and Andy) and/or after the Twins gave up on them. I just looked at this Millennium and only on MLB pitchers, so Peter Moylan, Sergio Santos et al are not included in the list. And I just did it minutes ago.

      There are 20 (!!!) pitchers who actually performed better after they left the Twins. I think that this is pretty darn significant about the way the Twins deal with pitching. The full list is here.

      Enjoy
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      The timing of this is extremely funny. I have been having this to do thing in the back of my mind and look how many pitchers performed better when they left the Twins (and Andy) and/or after the Twins gave up on them. I just looked at this Millennium and only on MLB pitchers, so Peter Moylan, Sergio Santos et al are not included in the list. And I just did it minutes ago.

      There are 20 (!!!) pitchers who actually performed better after they left the Twins. I think that this is pretty darn significant about the way the Twins deal with pitching. The full list is here.

      Enjoy
      There are a lot of posts that stretch truth to try and fit a point, but this and the included link stand out for the effort that went into it.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      The timing of this is extremely funny. I have been having this to do thing in the back of my mind and look how many pitchers performed better when they left the Twins (and Andy) and/or after the Twins gave up on them. I just looked at this Millennium and only on MLB pitchers, so Peter Moylan, Sergio Santos et al are not included in the list. And I just did it minutes ago.

      There are 20 (!!!) pitchers who actually performed better after they left the Twins. I think that this is pretty darn significant about the way the Twins deal with pitching. The full list is here.

      Enjoy
      Your analysis is very interesting thrylos, as always. But I wonder whether some of the improvement might be attributable to pitching in more pitcher-friendly ballparks than the Metrodome.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      Your analysis is very interesting thrylos, as always. But I wonder whether some of the improvement might be attributable to pitching in more pitcher-friendly ballparks than the Metrodome.
      The funny thing about that is that if you look at the park factors, in the 2000s the Metrodome was about 100 (which is average), so it was considered a "pitcher's" park. Seriously.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by CDog View Post
      There are a lot of posts that stretch truth to try and fit a point, but this and the included link stand out for the effort that went into it.
      any evidence to add to your claim, Toby?
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Wow, Thrylos... I'm not Rick Anderson fan and think he is vastly overrated, I don't think that this is completely fair.

      I mean, Anderson's greatest work was helping Hawkins to figure things out. In reality, he deserves a ton of credit for helping Jesse Crain figure things out the year before he became a free agent.

      Grant Balfour was clearly talented but he was hurt, Tommy John and shoulder surgery. It took him awhile to come back to full strength. Similarly, I find it hard to compare a guy like Mike Lincoln, who came up too quickly to make spot starts for the Twins out of necessity to a guy who, years later was a decent bullpen guy for a year or two. Mijares showed plenty of good in his years with the Twins... Let's see how he's doing in a few months. JC Romero started with the Twins as a stater. Once Andersen moved him to teh bullpen, he became dominant.

      I could go on and on stating ways in whch it's not at all looking at apples to apples, including several 1.) switching to he NL, and 2.) simply having more experience thanks to the years of learning the big leagues with the TWins.

      And I'm not even a Rick Andersen fan.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Now on to what NIck actually wrote in this article... This is Nick at his best, by the way. I really enjoyed the article, and he's such a talented writer.

      I found it interesting that the Twins actually signed him to a minor league contract a year earlier, but because they signed him so quickly to a minor league deal, he was able to be selected in the Rule 5 draft by Seattle, and when Seattle wanted to send him down, the M's sent Jair Fernandez to the Twins.

      The next year, the Twins and Dickey waited until afte the Rule 5 draft to sign a minor league contract.

      As for the question at hand, I can't blame the Twins for letting Dickey go. I don't think there were any (many) Twins fans that were disappointed when the TWins let him go. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and the Twins sure could use Dickey! But I can't blame the Twins for not seeing this. And again, it's in the NL.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      A few thoughts:

      1. Baseball is a funny game. Trying to predict an individual player's future is educated guesswork at best. Trying to predict the future of a mid-30's hurler without major league stuff, learning a new and difficult pitch, is even harder. You can't blame the Twins for looking at Dickey's past, and his work while with the team, and deciding to look elsewhere.

      2. The knuckleball is a tough pitch to master. Not many can get the consistent release needed to ensure you're throwing a knuckleball almost every time, rather than 2 good knucklers followed by one which adds just a half a revolution or so on it's way to the plate and becomes a 65 MPH fastball with little movement. Knuckleballers often take years to learn their craft...but conversely, good ones can pitch for a long time. (Side note: Note that this matters, but I have a personal distaste for knuckleballers. In fact, I hate em. Ugly baseball, IMO. Which is not to say they can't be reasonably effective, I just prefer 98 at the knees on the black. I do agree Dickey is easy to root for on a personal level. Just not as a baseball player, for me anyway.)

      3. While predicting baseball players is hard, predicting thrylos will show up with a half-cocked diatribe against Gardy and/or Anderson is actually quite easy.

      BTW, I agree with Seith...Nice article, Nick.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Wow, Thrylos... I'm not Rick Anderson fan and think he is vastly overrated, I don't think that this is completely fair.
      .
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      , predicting thrylos will show up with a half-cocked diatribe against Gardy and/or Anderson is actually quite easy.
      .
      ok...
      I take that as constructive criticism

      So... I gave y'all evidence of 20 pitchers who did better (and some flourished) after they left the Gardy and Andy mess. And numbers do not lie. Period. Unless y'all give me 20 or more pitchers who improved under Gardy and Andy, you got to take the truth and see the reality that these guys are hurting our team big time.

      Just saying. Put up or shut up. (Isn't that how that saying goes?)
      Thank you.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Thrylos, I don't find your thesis absurd. Yet, I'm also not willing to subscribe to it just yet either because I'm sure we can find several pitchers whom became better when with the Twins and worse upon leaving. I'm only going to look at dramatic (.5 ERA) differences when considering the pitcher as better or worse, because smaller amounts are a difference in degree not kind, and I think you are trying to expose how pitchers become a significantly better pitcher post Twins. I did look over your list carefully and have never figured out why we let Breslow go. Money? I don't recall. In summary, I enjoy an argumentative thesis, and you have an interesting one here, even if it's a little long on the claims and short on the evidence (I'm speaking of balance here).
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Now if Marquis accrues a sub 3 ERA the rest of this season, I'll join to call for pitching coach 'adjustments'
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      It is the job of the GM and coaches to predict how players will do, though, right? And if you miss too often, you end up winning 70 games in back to back years (giver or take).....At least thrylos is consistent, and tries to use facts to back up his opinion. I respect that, even if I don't always agree with the conclusions drawn. Many other people post accusations or other statements like they are true, when they are clearly not. If you don't agree with his logic, fight it with logic.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      Wow, Thrylos... I'm not Rick Anderson fan and think he is vastly overrated, I don't think that this is completely fair.

      I mean, Anderson's greatest work was helping Hawkins to figure things out. In reality, he deserves a ton of credit for helping Jesse Crain figure things out the year before he became a free agent.

      Grant Balfour was clearly talented but he was hurt, Tommy John and shoulder surgery. It took him awhile to come back to full strength. Similarly, I find it hard to compare a guy like Mike Lincoln, who came up too quickly to make spot starts for the Twins out of necessity to a guy who, years later was a decent bullpen guy for a year or two. Mijares showed plenty of good in his years with the Twins... Let's see how he's doing in a few months. JC Romero started with the Twins as a stater. Once Andersen moved him to teh bullpen, he became dominant.

      I could go on and on stating ways in whch it's not at all looking at apples to apples, including several 1.) switching to he NL, and 2.) simply having more experience thanks to the years of learning the big leagues with the TWins.

      And I'm not even a Rick Andersen fan.
      All this. Plus, off the top of my head, no attempt to account for possible usage differences; no attempt to define "better;" no accounting for time actually spent with Twins vs. others vs. minors, etc; no filter for sample sizes; no accounting for when in career time with Twins/others was (before he "got it?" etc); no discussion or attempt to find reverse examples; no comparison of this list to the list that could be created for any other team or even for the Twins under different coaching staffs; no mention or accounting for pitchers who trended positively for the Twins and then continued that same trend after.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      3. While predicting baseball players is hard, predicting thrylos will show up with a half-cocked diatribe against Gardy and/or Anderson is actually quite easy.
      Uh oh...wait a minute...did what I think happen happen? Am I Macho Man or Hogan here?
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Back on actual topic...I really liked Dickey during his stay with the Twins and it bummed me out that it was so short. I never really thought of it as a mistake since he didn't really pitch that well here. Maybe it was just that it was during my time with a beard that happened to make me look a LOT like him with my Twins hat on. Really happy he's having success post-Twins.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      ok...
      I take that as constructive criticism

      So... I gave y'all evidence of 20 pitchers who did better (and some flourished) after they left the Gardy and Andy mess. And numbers do not lie. Period. Unless y'all give me 20 or more pitchers who improved under Gardy and Andy, you got to take the truth and see the reality that these guys are hurting our team big time.

      Just saying. Put up or shut up. (Isn't that how that saying goes?)
      Thank you.
      1. Your "list" is laughable. Just to cherry pick a few names, your "evidence" includes the likes of:

      Luis Ayala. Luis Ayala?? Ayala was actually slightly better in 2009 for the Twins than he was in the National League in 2008. And...he was worse in 2009 after he left the Twins and joined the Marlins. Now, granted he only pitched 7 2/3 innings for the Marlins, so I wouldn't normally even mention this, but since you brought him up, AND your list includes:

      Joe Biemel, who pitched a total of 1.2 innings for the Twins...I feel justified. I say again...one point two innings. Five outs constitutes one of your 20 "examples."

      Craig Breslow. Breslow's numbers with the Twins are almost identical to his post-Twins career.

      Phil Humber. Humber pitched a total of 20.2 innings for the Twins, spread out over 2 seasons, during which time he was battling arm problems often. He did have a nice season with the Sox in 2010, but he's currently sitting at a 5.68 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP despite the perfect game.

      Mike Lincoln. Livan Hernandez. Matt Garza as a 22/23 yr old. I could go on, but is that really necessary?

      2. I'm too lazy, but Anderson has been the Twins pitching coach since 2002. I bet if someone wanted to take the time, for any major league pitching coach with a 10 yr career, you could find some examples of pitchers who went on to have better success somewhere else. Your list, as noted, is laughably weak. If anything, that list shows how few Twins pitchers have been markedly better after leaving. Further, if I wasn't so lazy, I bet I could find 20 pitchers who were better under Anderson. Hell, I found 1 (Ayala) who was immediately better under Anderson on YOUR list, and I think you could add Burton to that list just from this year's team, just off the top of my head.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Good for Dickey. He's one of the good guys.

      Thrylos, like everything else in the universe, the quality of a pitcher's ability is not static. It's either improving or degrading. I have no idea how many pitchers have passed through the current coaching staff's hands, but I suspect it's a lot. It's not too surprising that you were able to easily find 20 out of that group that improved after they left. Unfortunately the coaching staff has to deal with the here and now in addition to predicting and responding to the the odds on the future ability of every pitcher. Some times it's just a numbers game.

      p.s. Gardy sends his love.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      It is the job of the GM and coaches to predict how players will do, though, right? And if you miss too often, you end up winning 70 games in back to back years (giver or take).....At least thrylos is consistent, and tries to use facts to back up his opinion. I respect that, even if I don't always agree with the conclusions drawn. Many other people post accusations or other statements like they are true, when they are clearly not. If you don't agree with his logic, fight it with logic.

      It's inductive logic, which claims nothing more than something being likely to be true. If the premise is true, then therefore, so is the conclusion. The only caveat is that the inductive process has to be used correctly and in this case it is not. It is far to convenient, it's really a generalization to conclude that the reason for the change in statistics is due to a change in coaching staffs. It also leaves out all of the pitchers who had success under Anderson and Gardy, by eliminating all of that empirical data it fails under the microscope of correct reasoning. It's illogical. All this represents is a simplistic comparison of stats to attempt to prove a predetermined, inference based conclusion. Or simply put, his opinion.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      It would be hard to dispute Thrylos' figures pitcher for pitcher because the Twins lose more pitchers than they sign in free agency. The Twins are much more likely to promote from within. 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. That said off the top of my head I can think of Burton and Gray who have improved with the Twins. The same goes for last decade stalwarts Nathan and Guerrier. It would be hard to pick starters for his defense as the only free agent starters this team signs are veterans on the downside of their career, though you could argue Pavano has had his best success with the Twins since his couple of decent years a decade ago.

      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.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      It's inductive logic, which claims nothing more than something being likely to be true. If the premise is true, then therefore, so is the conclusion.
      Just a gentle pedantic correction: Only with valid (deductive) arguments is it true that the truth of the premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion. You had it correct the first time about the likelihood of truth for the inductive argument, that is until we are confronted with David Hume's analysis of induction as habit.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.