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December 17, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The Mets Deal Dickey to Toronto? UPDATED

by Ben Lindbergh and Jason Parks

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American League
National League

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Reportedly traded C-R Travis D'Arnaud, RHP Noah Syndergaard, C-R John Buck and OF-R Wuilmer Becerra to the Mets for RHP R.A. Dickey, C-L Josh Thole, and C-R Mike Nickeas. [12/17]

The November trade that brought Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and friends to Toronto made it clear that the Blue Jays were going for it. The Dickey trade—whether it’s finalized today, finalized tomorrow, or falls apart completely—reveals the lengths to which they’re willing to go.

There were some signs late last season that the honeymoon period for Alex Anthopoulos might be coming to a close, which might have put some pressure on him to stop stockpiling and start dealing from strength. In this case, though, it’s easy to make the case that the GM’s own interests line up well with his team’s.

Look around the AL East. The Red Sox have signed a few impact players, but they’ll have to have an even bigger bounceback than the Blue Jays to compete after a 69-win season. The suddenly cost-conscious Yankees lost a few key free agents and have largely limited their activity to re-signing old players (old both in the chronological sense and in the sense that they played for the Yankees last season). The Rays have lost B.J. Upton, James Shields, and Wade Davis and added Yunel Escobar, Wil Myers, and James Loney, which seems (in isolation) like a downgrade for 2013. The Orioles have done almost nothing to offset any regression that might be in store after their run-differential-defying 2012.

While most of their rivals have treaded water or worse, the Jays have added roughly 12 projected WARP from Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis, and Emilio Bonifacio (while subtracting roughly five projected WARP from the departures of Escobar and Kelly Johnson). The team that wins the winter doesn’t always win 90 games, so we shouldn’t let an active offseason blind us to the Blue Jays’ remaining needs. But plug in all the new players and factor in the likelihood of improved health for Jose Bautista and a pitching staff that couldn’t stay on the field in 2012, and Toronto looks like the pre-season favorite (or at least the pre-New Year’s favorite) in the AL East.

More than once (before today’s discussion of the deal with Jason Parks), Sam Miller and I have played the “Would you rather?” game with Dickey and a whole host of starters with worse results in 2012. It’s a good game to play with Dickey, since he combines recent results among the best in baseball with an unusually high uncertainty level for someone two months removed from a Cy Young season. As fantastic as Dickey has been at preventing runs over the past three years, and despite the big spike in strikeout rate last season with an accompanying improvement in control, he posted his first league-average ERA in 2010, turned 38 in October, and relies on a unique offering that he could conceivably lose his feel for as suddenly as he found it.

Given their pitchers’ struggles to stay healthy last season, Dickey’ recent durability has to appeal to Toronto: the righty led the National League in starts and innings in his Cy Young year and hasn’t hit the DL since 2005. Between Dickey and Buehrle, the Jays have added two innings eaters who should offer some security should the fragile Johnson prove as breakable as he has before, though banking on any pitcher to take the ball can backfire. PECOTA projected roughly 190 innings with a mid-3.00s ERA for Dickey in Queens; adjust those numbers accordingly for the AL East and a better hitter’s ballpark, and Dickey starts to look a little less special, albeit still an incredible bargain for the $5 million he’ll earn. But it’s hard to say how much a projection system based on comparables and several seasons of past performance can help us project a pitcher with no perfect comparables and a 2012 approach and performance completely out of character with the rest of his career.

Last week, I came down (maybe a little more softly than some) against the Royals’ decision to trade their top prospect (and some other prospects) for a pitcher. So why aren’t I blasting the Blue Jays for doing something similar? In short, because the Blue Jays are the better team. On the surface, their results from last season don’t look much different from the Royals’, but the Jays’ injury issues were so severe that it’s easier to believe that they weren’t playing up to their capabilities. More importantly, the Jays have already made one big trade this winter that put them in a position to win with one more major move. Even factoring in some expected improvement from the Royals’ young hitters, it’s tough to make the case that the Shields trade put them in the same position that the Dickey trade does Toronto.

One thing we’ve learned over the last week: as much as teams might value promising, cost-controlled prospects, they aren’t afraid to trade them. Whether because teams have gotten better at quantifying prospect value or (maybe more likely) because the second wild card has put a playoff spot within reach of most teams, many top prospects have shifted from “untouchable” to “trade chip.” D’Arnaud isn’t quite the prospect that Myers is, but he’s close to the prospect Bauer was before last season. Last week, I looked at how former top prospects who were traded early on in their careers from 1990-2004 fared in (roughly) their first few years of service time. The results weren’t pretty: top-10 prospects traded before losing their rookie eligibility accrued roughly 5.0 WARP in their team control years, compared to roughly 12 WARP for top-10 prospects who weren’t traded. D’Arnaud might not be a top-10 guy—according to our in-house prospect experts, he’s on the cusp, tentatively just missing the Top 10 but making the Top 15—but he’s close enough to give rise to a sneaking suspicion that the Jays sold high.

Regardless, d’Arnaud’s departure leaves the Jays with a weakness behind the plate. J.P. Arencibia’s power makes him an adequate offensive catcher, despite his lousy walk rate, but according to Max Marchi’s model, he was baseball’s worst receiver last season, costing the Jays over 20 runs due to framing. Thole is average in that respect, but he has little of Arencibia’s upside at the plate. Last year, he posted the worst TAv of any hitter who got at least 350 plate appearances: .206, 10 whole points below Clint Barmes.

There’s one more factor to consider before we move on. On our internal mailing list, Dan Evans advanced the idea that one reason for Toronto’s faith in Dickey might have been the belief that the knuckleball would be better in a dome:

The biggest component is that the knuckleballer has confidence that the environment won't mess with the path of the pitch, which reassures the pitcher and allows the guy to cast it without concern. Dickey's ability to throw strikes with his knuckleball was extraordinary in 2012…

The unpredictability of the pitch is both its strength and worst enemy. When the pitcher has comfort that the elements will not adversely affect it, the knuckleball suddenly becomes a better pitch. 

Knuckleballers are a small sample, and knuckleballers in domes are a smaller sample still, so it’s difficult to test this theory, at least by looking at the results of knuckleball pitchers. Comparing raw open-air stats to indoors stats wouldn’t do it: to come up with anything definitive, you’d need to account for how good the pitcher was when he pitched in those parks, what their park factors were, how good the opposing lineup was, etc. It would be a lot of work for a result that might prove ambiguous anyway (and it doesn’t help that the career in-dome split stats available online appear to be borked.) According to University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Alan M. Nathan, an expert on baseball physics (and a BP guest author), "there is anecdotal evidence of the knuckleball being more effective indoors." Nathan says a dome's "constant atmosphere conditions means the pitch is easier to control," but he knows of no "controlled experiments addressing the issue." What we do know is that Dickey believes that pitching in a dome helps him, or did as of 2009 when he signed with the Twins:

“I pitched there last year with the Mariners," Dickey explains, "and I found that that constant climate where you have a little bit of humidity in the Dome and a little bit of air conditioner in your face proves to be a real nice kind of controlled atmosphere to throw it in. Whereas if you're on the coasts somewhere and you get wind gusts up to 30 miles an hour, it could be a little more difficult sometimes."

Dickey may have changed his mind after posting a 4.76 ERA in 19 games in relief that season, but he’ll have another shot at indoor pitching next season (depending on the weather and the Blue Jays’ whims— whether the Rogers Centre’s roof is retracted during Dickey’s home starts might tell us whether the Jays think there’s something to the knuckleball dome theory.) And if he gets his extension, he’ll have two or three years beyond that to get accustomed to Canada, at a significantly more lucrative salary and an even higher risk to Toronto.

*Update* Ken Rosenthal reports that the Jays and Dicky have agreed to a two-year, $25 million extension, making a physical the only obstacle to the deal going through (hopefully Toronto already knows about the no-UCL thing). Two years on top of 2013 will take Dickey through his age-40 season, bringing his total earnings up to an affordable $30 million for three years with Toronto.

*Another update* The trade is now official, and the identities of the last two players have been revealed: Mike Nickeas went to Toronto, while prospect Wuilmer Becerra went to the Mets. This makes the deal even better for New York: Nickeas is a marginal backup catcher who's almost 30 and can't hit (though he appears to be a pretty good framer), while Becerra is a legitimate prospect. The Jays wanted another catcher with experience catching Dickey's knuckleball in case Thole gets hurt, but they had to give up a "potential stud," in the words of Jason Parks. Here's a sneak preview from the Mets Top 10 list, which will be up on Tuesday; Becerra made the "Prospects on the rise" section.

A seven-figure player signed by the Jays in the 2011 J2 market, 18-year-old Wuilmer Becerra has all the tools to climb prospect lists in 2013. His 2012 debut was cut short after getting hit in the face, but the Venezuelan outfielder has the type of size/speed/power potential that is rarely found in one package.

Ben Lindbergh

Whenever a team trades a top prospect, it’s natural to dig for reasons that exist below the soil of the obvious. The most common discovery is a narrative that the team is selling high on goods they believe to be faulty, or at the very least likely to fall short of the recognized projection. This is one of the benefits of an intimate developmental system, where teams can form evaluations that have more depth than a limited physical profile can offer; other teams might be quite familiar with the sketch of a prospect based on baseball performance from eyewitness accounts, but those evaluations will rarely paint the complete picture of the player.

This isn’t to suggest that all prospect trades have root in the grift; rather, just that it’s easy to form ulterior conclusions based on this premise. If someone is willing to trade you a major-league-ready prospect—one that has skills both at the plate and behind it—one can assume that the return for said prospect is substantial enough to warrant the move, or that the prospect might not be as special as the profile suggests. The latter leaves the blind searching for holes in the product and the sales pitch, scared of falling short of luxury and landing a lemon. ’Tis the nature of the barter, where coming out ahead has a sweeter taste than mutual benefit.

I’ve been thinking about the discussed Blue Jays/Mets trade since it took its first breath on Twitter, and I’d be lying if I said my mind didn’t jump to conclusions beyond a mutually beneficial deal. My first thoughts were “Really? Both d’Arnaud and Syndergaard for Dickey? The Jays must not believe in d’Arnaud. I wonder if they fear his long-term stability behind the plate? What if his latest knee injury is a red flag being flown with a different shade? I wonder if they don’t believe in the bat? I wonder if they are more willing to trade him because they didn’t draft him and aren’t as emotionally invested in him?” Right or wrong, I assumed the worst, having convinced myself that smart teams don’t trade premium up-the-middle talent on the cusp of the majors. The Jays seem like a smart team. Something must be up.

Having profiled the Jays system only days before, I returned to my player notes, combing over the five outside sources I had asked about Travis d’Arnaud, a prospect that Baseball Prospectus ended up ranking number one in the Toronto system. The notes featured far more superlatives than stains, with every source giving d’Arnaud a floor of a major-league regular, with his ceiling ranging anywhere from first-division starter to perennial all-star. The bat has some impact potential, with a hit tool that graded out in the average to plus range, with his power potential receiving similar scores.

With a steady (but not spectacular) defensive skill-set, the total package, at least on paper, made d’Arnaud look like a can’t-miss talent, a cost-controlled major-league catcher with substantial upside. I started calling around, asking about the knee, asking about potential makeup issues that could limit his ceiling, about weaknesses that would cause him to fall flat at the highest level. The reports remained positive. Despite some injury setbacks, I couldn’t find one source that thought prior injuries to his back and his knee would derail his ability to function at the position, and despite some minor deficiencies in his game, I couldn’t find one source that thought he would fall flat.

The secondary prospect in the deal is right-hander Noah Syndergaard, a tall Texan with big stuff and a good feel for pitching.  The scouting report can make the lip quiver, thanks to a plus-plus fastball and two plus potential secondary offerings, but the inherent risk of pitching prospects and the professional resume that concludes at the Low-A level create a profile that is anything but a sure thing. Despite this uncertainty, Syndergaard has the type of promise that can haunt a team should he develop to maturity. In combination with d’Arnaud, the Jays are playing Russian roulette with Amityville Horror, a potential fright-fest that only winning at the major-league level can diminish should it appear. 

I gave up my pursuit of a narrative and settled in comfortably with the notion that the Blue Jays felt adding a top-of-the-rotation arm was worth trading away such a promising prospect package, and after taking another look at their projected 2013 roster, I not only understood the move, I started to appreciate the approach taken by the Jays front office. They feel they have a chance to win, and they are willing to part with some of the currency they’ve been saving up to enhance their odds. It’s a risk, but you can’t always rest on the accomplishments of your farm system when the product at the highest level is paramount to your own survival. Eventually, you have to play your hand. —Jason Parks

Programming noteLook for the Mets Top 10 Prospects list, featuring d'Arnaud and Syndergaard, this week at BP. Jason will also update the Blue Jays Top 10 to reflect the trade later this winter.

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Reportedly traded RHP R.A. Dickey, C-L Josh Thole, and C-R Mike Nickeas to the Blue Jays in exchange for C-R Travis D'Arnaud, RHP Noah Syndergaard, C-R John Buck and OF-R Wuilmer Becerra. [12/17]

True to form, the Mets mucked up the PR aspects of trading their most popular pitcher, making much of their contract negotiation process public, lowballing the ace with below-market extension offers, and complaining about Dickey’s comments at a team function last week. That’s a shame, since the team was wise to trade Dickey when it did. If the Red Sox-style verbal backstabbing on the way out was intended to make fans sympathize with the team, it likely had the opposite effect. It was also entirely unnecessary: the perception that Dickey’s departure had anything to do with his penchant for running his mouth to the media, writing best-selling books, and climbing Kilimanjaro obscures how much sense it made on a talent level alone. It was a win both for the franchise and for Mets fans who were willing to look beyond 2013, which they should have been doing even before the deal.

Earlier this month, Tom Verducci reported that the Blue Jays “weren’t enamored with the basic math” of a Dickey-for-Arencibia-and-Anthony Gose deal, but the Mets ended up with an even better return, importing two impact players instead of settling for stopgaps. They weren’t going to win any more with Dickey next season than they had in 2012, they’d already appeased the fans by extending David Wright, and they filled holes for the future. D’Arnaud is ready to compete for a starting job right now, with Buck (an average framer and declining hitter) serving as his veteran caddy. And Syndergaard gives forward-looking Mets fans license to dream of a Wheeler-Harvey-Syndergaard front of a future rotation that could still include Jon Niese.

Sandy Alderson has perhaps been guilty of letting opportunities to improve his team pass by: How much better would the Mets’ system look with another top prospect or two from a much-rumored but never-materialized Jose Reyes deal? But when he has pulled the trigger on a trade for an in-demand veteran—first with Carlos Beltran, who brought back Wheeler, and now with Dickey—he's made the Mets much better. —Ben Lindbergh

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

47 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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John Carter

Nobody feels the Blue Jays are overdoing it? They've left no room for a pitching prospect to be promoted to the starting rotation - and they are still rich in that department. Syndergaard might have been that guy. They are now weaker behind the plate - by both having an inferior back-up to Arencibia and by trading away D'Amaud who will soon be, if not already is the better starter - on his way likely to being much better.

Sure, knuckleballers age well, but they often have relapses after their breakout season. That happened to last two highly successful ones: Wakefield and Candiotti. Charlie Hough was an established fine reliever, but struggled during his transition to starter. Phil Niekro - I'm sure the Jays would be very happy with his career (or Candiotti's)- but he did have a few off years including year 3 after his break out season. His brother Joe didn't rely on the knuckleball as much, but was consistently good once he mastered it.

Dec 17, 2012 07:39 AM
rating: 0
Dan W.

Dickey's breakout season was 2010, just no one noticed. He's been one of the 3-5 best SPs in the National League over the last three years.

Dec 17, 2012 08:59 AM
rating: 5

Plenty of room for their prospects to come up and contribute in the pen, which is what clubs seem to be doing. And I'm not sure I understand the concern anyhow, would you rather have a crummy pitcher in your rotation just so you can replace him instead of a good one?

As for D'Arnaud, it wasn't more than two years ago when Arencibia had scouting reports just as (or more) glowing. Sure, Dickey is less of a certainty than most pitchers coming of a Cy Young, but the notion that a player with 0 MLB at bats and an injury history is already a league average player is optimistic.

Dec 17, 2012 09:18 AM
rating: 2
John Carter

Dan W: OK, but Dickey has certainly kicked it up another echelon going from a 15% K% to 25% - without an increase in walks. His K/BB has gone from just two and a half, which is quite good for a knuckleballer to 4.24, which is probably unprecedented for a knuckleball starter. The best I could find among the Niekro brothers, Hough, Candiotti, or Wakefield was 3.39: Niekro in 1969. Wakefield's career K/BB was/is 1.79. Joe Niekro's was worse. I admit that I am warming up to this deal now - as a Torontonian.

SC & Nathan: Some fair points about the pitchers, although, I still think it would be better for the Jays to improve themselves at secondbase, for example, than to block their young potential starters from reaching the rotation. And Happ isn't crummy.

However, I remain un-budged about the catching situation. J.P. Arencibia snuck into Baseball America's Top 50 (no. 43) after his age 22 break out season in AA. His next season at AAA was a disappointment and he fell out of the Top 100. Travis D'Amaud's defense has always been more highly regarded than Arencibia's and was in the Top 100 after his age 21 season. After his break-out at age 22, he was no. 36, then moved UP to #17 after his continued success in AAA. At the Major League level, J.P. has shown he can hit them out now and then, but his On-Base Average was only .275 down from .282 the year before. His defense is among the worse. It is not unreasonable to expect much more than that from Travis D'Amaud.

Dec 17, 2012 14:42 PM
rating: 0

Pitchers get hurt.

Dec 17, 2012 10:39 AM
rating: 1
John Carter

Alex Anthopoulos is no wimp, anyway. I would not have the guts to go this "all in". Does he play poker?

Dec 17, 2012 07:44 AM
rating: 1
Sam Rothstein

D'Arnaud and Syndergaard are a steep price, but another starter is exactly what the Jays need. If this deal goes through it would allow Happ to be a swingman and move Romero to the 5 slot in the rotation. You're always going to have injuries, and their top pitching prospects weren't likely to contribute in the bigs this coming season. At the very least Dickey gives them serious depth and 200 innings; however, at this price I would hope he gives them something closer to last season.

Dec 17, 2012 07:51 AM
rating: 1

As a Mets fan, I love the deal.

Dec 17, 2012 08:09 AM
rating: 12

Let's assume for a moment that environmental conditions affect the knuckleball significantly. Is it legal for the Jays to adjust the Skydome's roof and/or HVAC differently on a day Dickey will pitch? They obviously couldn't make it 50 degrees with saturating humidity if they still want fans to attend, but subtle changes are in the realm of possibility.

Staff from the Metrodome have admitted tinkering with the HVAC during a game to try to discourage visitor home runs (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/story?id=1585964), but there's a bright "cheating" line there to me because they provided different conditions for each team. But can the Jays just say "I know it's 75 and sunny out, but we're going to keep the roof closed and the A/C on today for both teams."?

Dec 17, 2012 08:21 AM
rating: 1
John Carter

Sure. Teams tinker with the grass - depending on the infielders, baserunners, and bunters. It's an accepted strategy. Unless there is a rule against it, you can't call it cheating. Some might call it unsportsmanlike, but I think negative behaviour sorts of things like spiking or badmouthing someone falls under that category. I'd be more inclined to call it "competitive spirit".

Dec 17, 2012 08:30 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I believe the open/closed status of the roof is at the home team's discretion, at least during the regular season and if the decision is made before first pitch. The Jays couldn't, for instance, keep opening and closing the roof during the game depending on who's hitting. But as far as I know, they could keep it closed for a Dickey start on a day with perfect weather if they wanted to. Of course, there are other considerations besides how the environmental conditions would affect Dickey (the quality of the fan experience, for instance). It'll be interesting to see whether any gamesmanship goes on, though I doubt it would be worth it without hard evidence that it would have a significant effect.

Dec 17, 2012 08:32 AM

While he was in Arizona, Curt Schilling wanted the roof closed. It was closed. That's an easy sell in July and August, but in April and the last half of September, it can be really nice having it open. Didn't matter. Fans'll live with it, especially if they believe it will help their team. (Curt could be a prima donna, but he was *our* prima donna, dammit...)

Dec 17, 2012 15:16 PM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

Peyton Manning got 80,000 people to stop doing the wave at a Broncos game, so anything's possible if the fans like you.

Dec 17, 2012 15:29 PM
rating: 4

The point "whoever wins the winter doesn't always win 90 games" is well taken, but in light of recent developments it looks like the angels in the west, tigers in the central, jays in the east, and a rangers rays wildcard. Am I reading this wrong or are we potentially, if all goes according to hoyle, looking at a postseason free of yankees and red sox even with the extra team added?

As for the senior circuit, I don't follow it as closely, but is a giants dodgers nlcs as inevitable as a sox yanks alcs used to be?

Dec 17, 2012 08:47 AM
rating: -1

I think the Yanks/Sox will have something to say about the AL, both of those teams still have solid talent.

I would say that the Nats are still the team to beat in the NL and the Cards/Braves and potentially DBacks (with a rebound) will all be solid in the NL.

Dec 17, 2012 12:56 PM
rating: 2

Mets fan here:
Heart- I'll miss RA
Head- Great deal

Dec 17, 2012 09:00 AM
rating: 10

"I have played the “Would you rather?” game with Dickey"

Beavis laugh.

Dec 17, 2012 09:14 AM
rating: 10
Richard Bergstrom

I'm glad the Jays are making good, quality moves to be competitive in the AL East.

I am not glad they keep trading my rookie keepers to the NL. I've now blown well past my 2 crossover limit :/

Dec 17, 2012 09:37 AM
rating: -2

Is there a reason that this comment has a -5 rating? Something I missed perhaps?

Dec 17, 2012 11:12 AM
rating: 3

He constantly comments in regards to transaction impacts on his fantasy team. It gets old.

Dec 17, 2012 12:11 PM
rating: 6
Richard Bergstrom

No, not constantly. Just so happens that quite a few trades lately affected the one fantasy team I have. Also, there are at least two other people who regularly comment on BP who are in the same fantasy league and with how slow the offseason is in general, it's nice to have something additional to chat about.

Besides, I do a lot of non-fantasy comments too ;)

Dec 17, 2012 13:12 PM
rating: 0

Pretty nitpicky to negative someone for a comment like that.

Dec 17, 2012 15:53 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

It happens. Every so often there are a few people who come out of the woodwork and, without saying anything, minus every comment I make for a few weeks. I usually ignore the +/- ratings I get and usually the minus bats go away after awhile.

Besides, I've typed paragraphs, including statistics and links and done research and remained at 0. Someone says "Nice article." in about that many words and gets +10. I say "I don't like beer" and I get -10.

Dec 17, 2012 16:01 PM
rating: 0

there's ratings?

Dec 20, 2012 12:10 PM
rating: 0

Is there any concern over the fact that D'Arnaud is older and still has not debuted? How many starts players are still in the minors at 24?

Dec 17, 2012 10:22 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Catchers can take longer to develop than other position players. Not uncommon to log more time in the minors.

Dec 17, 2012 10:30 AM

Next season is going to be a blast to watch as a fan. With so many teams really going for it, it will be something to watch all season. Only one team can end up with a ring at the end of the year. I think it is especially fun that the teams making the moves aren't the Sox and Yanks.

Dec 17, 2012 12:22 PM
rating: 4

I mean the Mets weren't going to give him Dempster money! That's a pretty friendly deal, and I'm sure the injury riddled 2012 season makes the appeal of stockpiling starting depth valuable for Toronto. I agree that Blue Jays are really going for it, and the Royals are sort of giving it a go. Long term Mets will likely come out ahead, but if the Jays put some playoff appearances or flags up over the next 3 years, I doubt they'll be sorry.

Dec 17, 2012 13:13 PM
rating: 0

I was living a few minutes from the Astrodome the whole time Joe Niekro pitched there (in every role from SP to CL), time that overlapped with Phil in Atlanta and Charlie Hough a division foe of the 'Stros. To add to the anecdotal evidence, the knucklers that were spun sure seemed effective. We almost always sat right behind the homeplate trio, just back of the commish's box at the head of the Astro dugout, or on the second row about the middle of the dugout. So, very close to the pitch chute. The Niekros were both vocal from time to time about their fondness for the park/mound/effects.

Doesn't prove anything, but I'd sure wager the 'Dome did not have a NEGATIVE effect on knuckleballers if we could go back and measure that.

Dec 17, 2012 15:46 PM
rating: 2
Dig a Pony

The thing with Dickey is that he's a knuckleballer who throws like a regular pitcher. His arm speed is at fastball speed and he gets tired after 100 pitches and needs the 4 days between starts. I'm not sure he's going to be high end effective at 39-40 years old and I think the Mets thought that too. The Mets hired Alderson to make decisions and trades like this and I think Alderson had no intention of keeping Dickey at any price. Fortunately for him, Dickey and his agent came in at a contract request just high enough to cause Alderson faux consternation and alert other teams that a Cy Young pitcher was on the market. Toronto gave the Mets more than they probably thought they could get so kudo's to Alderson for extracting it.

Dec 18, 2012 01:33 AM
rating: 1
Sam Rothstein

Traditional knuckleballer or not, the number of pitchers who have won a Cy Young award at 36 and older is a pretty short list, and generally they have all done well in their subsequent seasons.

Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, Early Wynn, Warren Spahn, and R.A Dickey. Dickey's remaining history has yet to be written, but he has been improving every year as a knuckleballer.

Dec 18, 2012 07:00 AM
rating: 1

Surprised to see Jason Parks' comment that catchers take longer to develop than other position players. My impression has always been the opposite: great catchers often debut (and peak) at a relatively young age (Bench, Carter, Mauer). I suppose Piazza and Fisk are mild counterpoints.... Jason, is there data on that?

Dec 18, 2012 06:40 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=4464

Dec 18, 2012 07:03 AM
John Carter

One thing that hasn't been said (that I've noticed - or, perhaps, it is too obvious) - is that what this trade is really all about for the Blue Jays: Jose Bautista. Superstudly hitters like him don't come around very often. When they do, it is time to build a winner around him - especially if you have the money and the minor league talent available for selling. Bautista is 32 now - who knows how many studly years he has left. That makes Dickey, Reyes, Buehrle, etc. good fits.

Dec 18, 2012 10:14 AM
rating: 1

Weird that the Jays had to give up a talent package worthy of a Top 5 SP, but then only had to pay Dickey like a Top 50 SP. Either RA's got a mediocre agent or he just wanted the security of a small-outrageous fortune.

Dec 18, 2012 11:55 AM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

It's the same amount he asked the Mets for, I believe.

Dec 18, 2012 12:31 PM
rating: 0

Still seems strange. The Mets wouldn't pay him like an ace, but were then able to extract an ace's price in the trade. The Jays paid an ace's price in assets, but then were able to sign him for much less than an ace's salary. Seems like a disconnect to me.

Dec 18, 2012 12:42 PM
rating: 0
John Carter

First, I doubt even that package would have bought Verlander, Felix, Price, Kershaw, or Cueto to name five.

Second, although, R.A. Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher, he is 38. I'm not sure how comparable he is to other outstanding knuckleball starters. Dig a Pony makes an interesting point about his pitching motion, but Dickey has no ACL to wear out. He is a completely unique pitcher. But for what it is worth: Tim Wakefield had a career year at 35. He was only slightly above average after that until his age 43 season. Tom Candiotti had his career year at 31 and started pitching below average at 38. Charlie Hough never had a career year as a starter. He became a starter at 34 and was above average through 40, then carried on another five years as an average pitcher. Joe Niekro had a career year at age 37. He was slightly below average the next four years before getting even worse. Big brother Phil had several career years: at ages 28, 30, 35 (the best of his best), and 39. He was a little above average for the next 6 years, then just under average another two. Finally in his last year at age 48 playing for four different teams, he was pretty well useless to each of them.

If that means much, I'd expect about 6 more years of above average pitching, but probably not any more Cy Young type seasons.

Dec 18, 2012 16:23 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

On ESPN, Dickey's theory is that the Mets were waiting for the other free agent pitchers like Grienke etc to sign so that Dickey's price would be driven up.

"As for the slow pace of negotiations with the Mets, Dickey suspects team officials purposely dragged things out until front-line free-agent pitchers began to come off the board. That strategy figured to increase the interest in Dickey among teams desperate for starting pitching.

"I think, just as a logical person, it made sense that they were going slowly to try to see what was out there," Dickey said. "And I can certainly understand that. It may not have not lined up with my timing, which is perfectly OK."


Dec 18, 2012 20:58 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Also, at the salary the Jays are paying Dickey, he doesn't have to be an All Star. And, all things considered, they do have a young catcher in Arencibia who is competent enough.

The real comparable is probably the Halladay trade from the Jays to the Phillies which, ironically enough, involved d'Arnaud.

Dec 18, 2012 21:03 PM
rating: 0

I understand where you're getting that feeling. I think you're seeing an inverse relationship where his low price tag 3/$30m is one of the factors contributing to the better prospect haul. If his salary demands were 3/$45m, Toronto wouldn't be offering as nice a prospect package.

Dec 18, 2012 17:02 PM
rating: 0

I made a lazy aging curve for prominent knuckle ballers using RA9-Wins. Thought people might be interested.


Sample was small, basically just the 10 knucklers with the most games started + Dickey and minus Cicotte since he pitched a century ago.

Dec 19, 2012 18:14 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

Small sample, but interesting that Dickey and knuckleballers in general peak at 35 and maintain through their early 40s.

Dec 19, 2012 22:51 PM
rating: 0

Yeah, these 11 prominent guys demonstrate more of a plateau than a peak, from 35-39. And then the decline after that was very much in a standard fashion (-0.48 wins per year).

No conclusions or anything though, I just did it for fun. Didn't have time to throw every knuckler ever into the data set.

Dec 20, 2012 10:57 AM
rating: 0
John Carter

If you look at them on an individual basis, though, there is usually a demonstratively peak season followed by a plateau that generally sustains itself for sometimes 6 years, then declines. Once these geezers drop below about the 80 ERA+ mark, they have to retire.

Dec 20, 2012 12:42 PM
rating: -1

So I incorporated pretty much every knuckleball pitcher in history into the curve now (based on a wikipedia list). Not much changed, the plateau is still there. The peak did change from 35 to 39, which is kind of interesting I guess. Decline is still very standard once a knuckleball pitcher gets over the hill (-0.52 wins per year past 39). The peak at 45 is obviously random, only 4 guys are left alive there and Phil Niekro had a great year.


Dec 20, 2012 17:24 PM
rating: 0
Richard Bergstrom

The moral of the story might be that Dickey is somewhat likely to at least maintain his 2010-2012 ability since pitchers of his type that peak later tend to keep it up in their late 30s.

Dec 21, 2012 13:52 PM
rating: 0
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