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  • 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. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Anyway . . .

      One of Nick's best articles, I think. I cheer for Dickey and I am glad to see the success for him now. I do wish that the Twins would have kept him, obviously.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ultima Ratio View Post
      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.
      You're right, thank you. It should have read, "It's likely that if the premises are true then therefore so are the conclusions. Though not logically required.

      Personallly I'm starting to think that Thrylos believes in Reinchenbach's attempt of "pragmatic justification of induction", in that, if there is any chance of something happening based on what has happened then we are justified in reasoning inductively since it's guaranteed to work if anything would.

      But I agree with Hume.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      If anything, makes me wonder why the Twins gave up on some guys too soon. Salary? Arbitration? Make 40-man roster room and the guy gets grabbed by someone else. BUT THE NUMBERS ARE FASCINATING!
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      You're right, thank you. It should have read, "It's likely that if the premises are true then therefore so are the conclusions. Though not logically required.

      Personallly I'm starting to think that Thrylos believes in Reinchenbach's attempt of "pragmatic justification of induction", in that, if there is any chance of something happening based on what has happened then we are justified in reasoning inductively since it's guaranteed to work if anything would.

      But I agree with Hume.
      Whoa. I will drop the PhD in Philosophy bomb here (which might explain why I spend so much time on a baseball site . . . ), but I have to at this point to note how impressed I am at the use of philosophers of logic and science in baseball threads. Damn.
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by shanewahl View Post
      Whoa. I will drop the PhD in Philosophy bomb here (which might explain why I spend so much time on a baseball site . . . ), but I have to at this point to note how impressed I am at the use of philosophers of logic and science in baseball threads. Damn.
      Really, you have a PHD in Philosophy?.......now I'm just embarrassed.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Matt Guerrier did not fare so well after leaving the Twins would be another example of Twins pitchers leaving without success .
      Also note the lack of A list pitchers in the list. They look better on cherry picked statistics, but not none were perennial All Stars. Merely better than average in some cases for a year or two.
      Factors that caused some of these players to leave should be considered. Baseball is about money paid to players, there is only so much to go around. I am sure the Twins would have loved to keep Jesse Crain if it were on talent alone. They chose to spend elsewhere. Garza for Young ended up a bad trade. If Young would have hit his potential here, we would not have minded losing a solid starter. Money for Garza versus the potential that Slowey and Blackburn showed made the trade possible. It failed. A case could be made for Loshe. Traded for a mid level prospect was a bad trade.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      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.
      Ulgh. More detailed and subtle analysis is needed here to really judge a pitching coach. Players progress and regress for ALL SORTS of reasons.
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      I don't think there were any (many) Twins fans that were disappointed when the TWins let him go.
      It seems to me that there were quite a few that were disappointed - I know I was. I wasn't critical of the move, just disappointed it didn't work out because the knuckleball is a fun pitch to watch. I don't think it's fair to criticize Anderson for failing to help him succeed when the book on developing knuckleballers is very thin. I remember at the time someone did some analysis on the movement on his pitches using pitch f/x data and concluded that there might not have been enough movement to consistently fool MLB hitters. I'm sure there were plenty of caveats in the article about limited data for comparison, but at least it showed there were definitely reasonable people who had doubts about his ability to make it.

      I didn't have time to track down that article, but if anyone remembers it and has a link it would be interesting to re-read it.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by shanewahl View Post
      Ulgh. More detailed and subtle analysis is needed here to really judge a pitching coach. Players progress and regress for ALL SORTS of reasons.
      That was kind of my point. I didn't think it was fair to judge Anderson based on the original list of players and I could just as arbitrarily list guys who would seem to be on the other end of the specturm.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      twinsnorth49: now that is a logical argument that I can respect. That is not what thrylos usually gets back though, he usually just gets called names or somesuch. Like I said, I don't always agree with his process or conclusions, but at least he tries to use logic in his work, rather than just making statements as if they were factual. And for the most part, I don't think he calls others names or ridicules them for their posts either. And, given that he and I spent the last two years pretty much disagreeing on Seth's site, I can't believe I just made two posts in one thread defending him.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      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.
      Well, I think you certainly found ways to make numbers lie. Look at Lohse, for example. You show a few rate stats that suggest he's been better in St. Louis under uber-pitching coach Duncan. But you ignore things like IP, park factors and even the switch to the NL. WAR (and WAR has TONS of problems) shows that, while their adjusted ERA was roughly the same, Lohse's career WAR in MN was nearly double what he's done in St. Louis 5.5 vs 2.8. (St Louis also payed him over 33m for that while we paid him 7.3m). Same problem again with Romero who threw over 400 innings, out of a career total of about 600, with the Twins yet your only "analysis" is rate stats.

      You also included Redman who was traded before Anderson became our pitching coach (solid analysis for the guy who thought Smalley wasn't on the 87 Twins team).

      As others indicated, you also failed to do any study the other way - pitchers that got better. Guys like Guerrier, Reyes, Breslow, Burton, Nathan all got better when they came to the Twins.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      I don't fault the Twins for letting him go, but I do remember liking him, and there were stretches where he wasn't really THAT bad. If he put up his '09 performance on THIS year's Twins team, we'd be celebrating him.

      Still, he had zero track record for success prior to the Twins, and he had a 4.2 BB/9 and 1.62 WHIP for us. In his three years with the Mets, he basically cut his walks in half, which I would imagine is a big key to his success. And yes, he only got one start even though our rotation that year was not all that great, and he's ill suited to be a reliever. I might actually read his book, I think he's one of the more fascinating stories in baseball. It wasn't even discovered he was missing the UCL until somebody spotted him holding his elbow at strange angle in a USA baseball team photo.
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      Back to original topic--great article on RA Dickey by Nick. I am one of those who is not a knuckle ball fan--it is an ugly pitch and leads to ugly games with passed balls and wild pitches. But good for RA for making it with the Mets.

      As to whether guys got better when leaving Rick Anderson--sure Lohse did under Duncan--but in NL pitchers have lower ERAs cause they face the opposing pitcher. Nathan certainly improved under Anderson. Others like Humber didnt really get an opportunity here...as someone pointed out we traded Garza for Delmon...turned out to be a really bad trade that is not Anderson's fault.
    1. cr9617's Avatar
      cr9617 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      twinsnorth49: now that is a logical argument that I can respect. That is not what thrylos usually gets back though, he usually just gets called names or somesuch. Like I said, I don't always agree with his process or conclusions, but at least he tries to use logic in his work, rather than just making statements as if they were factual. And for the most part, I don't think he calls others names or ridicules them for their posts either. And, given that he and I spent the last two years pretty much disagreeing on Seth's site, I can't believe I just made two posts in one thread defending him.
      I'm not going to call Thrylos any names. He's a passionate Twins fan;somewhat delusional and over the top, and often times lacking objectivity in his points. Example? Thrylos picked the Twins to win the Central, beat the Yanks in the postseason, and go on to win the World Series in 2012. And he was serious...

      I guess my point is....Don't take anything Thrylos says seriously. He does try and use logic in what he says, it just happens to be twisted logic that's not always based in reality.
    1. spideyo's Avatar
      spideyo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      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.
      I was disappointed they let him go. Extremely so. But I'm a big fan of guys who don't fit the traditional molds in their positions. I'm still fascinated and intrigued by his complete lack of a UCL. He won't ever need to Tommy John surgery, because there is NOTHING THERE to replace or repair. Think about that. He is actually MISSING a key component of his pitching arm.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      On topic, I love knuckelballers, and was a bit bummed when they let him go. I also wanted to see him more as a starter. That said, I don't really fault them for the decision making process here.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsnorth49 View Post
      Really, you have a PHD in Philosophy?.......now I'm just embarrassed.
      Why be embarrassed? Maybe I should be as an adjunct with another job and a Twins Daily addiction?
    1. Hater's Avatar
      Hater -
      That list is pretty weak. Almost all of them are Bullpen guys. But let's backtrack for a second. Glad R.A Dickey is dominating in the friendly confines of Citi Field where it's impossible to hit a jack in the weak National League where you don't even have to face Prince Fielder and Albert Poo anymore. I remember watching RA Dickey pitch and the only thing that was remotely good about him was that he didn't need to warm up to pitch. He sucked, glad he is pitching well in AAAA ball, he obviously has improved his knuckle ball which takes a lot of time to perfect. As for the list if you think there is some overall major issue with the Twins because 15 bullpen guys pitched better in their later stints well you are a jackanape then sir. Half of those guys pitched well for the Twins in any case or were injured. A big BOO URNS!
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      You are aptly named, Hater.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I'm not up to date on new internet deriding, is the insult jackanape really back in fashion, or is Shakespeare once again required reading in school?
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