Can Blue Jays' R.A. Dickey Dwarf Tim Wakefield's Success in the AL East?
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R.A. Dickey is set to unleash his knuckleball on the AL East next season following a trade from the New York Mets to the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickey won’t baffle division opponents for as long as former Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield did, but he will have considerably more success during his tenure.
The seven-player deal is now simply pending all players passing their physicals after Dickey and Toronto agreed to a two-year, $25 million contract extension on Monday morning.
With the contract extension now settled, Dickey has become the latest major acquisition for the Blue Jays in the past month. Toronto acquired Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio in a November trade that makes them the early favorites to win the AL East in 2013.
Dickey’s ability to duplicate his surprising 2012 will play a vital role in Toronto’s ability to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish. Wakefield was a mainstay on Boston’s pitching staff for more than 15 years, but he never faced the expectations that Dickey will carry entering 2013.
Despite the pressure of anchoring the Blue Jays' staff, Dickey should thrive in his new home. There are three reasons to believe that he will experience far more success in the AL East than Wakefield did during his 17-year career with the Red Sox.
Here they are.
1. Age Ain't Nothin' but a Number
Wakefield's 19-year career proved that knuckleballers can go for miles and miles.
If you are concerned about Dickey’s ability to have continued success after coming into his own at age 38, you shouldn’t be. His knuckleball delivery reduces the stress on his pitching arm, and Dickey has far less mileage on him that your typical 10-year veteran.
Dickey has only pitched 1059.1 innings in the majors since debuting with the Texas Rangers in 2001. In contrast, Wakefield had amassed 2,066.2 innings by age 38, nearly twice as many as Dickey.
Even with that mileage on his arm, Wakefield went on to pitch for another seven years, through age 45. He accumulated another 1,160 innings from 2005-11 as a starter and reliever.
Wakefield’s career is a recent testament to the durability of knuckleballers, and Dickey should have no problem duplicating that level of endurance.
2. Ability to Miss Bats
Dickey's ability to get strikeouts will help when facing AL East sluggers like Robinson Cano of the Yankees.
While Dickey and Wakefield are both knuckleballers, they do not have much else in common in regard to their pitching styles. Dickey’s spectacular 2012 season was possible in large part due to his ability to strike out opposing batters, something that was never a major part of Wakefield's effectiveness.
Dickey led the National League in strikeouts in 2012 with 230 in 233.2 innings. In his best season (2003), Wakefield only struck out 169 batters in 202.1 innings.
The ability to miss bats is especially important when facing AL East sluggers like Robinson Cano, David Ortiz and Curtis Granderson, especially since all three are susceptible to the K. Dickey will also miss bats in yet another helpful way beginning next season.
Joining the Blue Jays means that he will avoid facing his own lineup. That includes two-time MLB home run champ Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who slugged 42 home runs in 2012.
In fact, Toronto’s lineup is now filled with dangerous bats, with Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia playing regularly. Not having to face that group will help Dickey’s career as much as anything.
3. Great Expectations
R.A. Dickey will look to duplicate his 2012 Cy Young campain in the American League.
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Wakefield had some flashes of brilliance throughout his major league career, including his breakout rookie campaign with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992. But at best, Wakefield was never more than a pretty good No. 3 starter.
Dickey arrives in Toronto with considerably higher expectations, because frankly, he is a much better pitcher. In addition to leading the National League in strikeouts, Dickey was second in the NL in ERA (2.73) and third in WHIP (1.05) last season.
The sample size for Dickey’s success is rather small, but Wakefield’s body of work is hard to debate. He alternated between the starting rotation and bullpen throughout his career, and his numbers are merely pedestrian.
Wakefield only managed to have a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 2-1 in five of his 19 seasons, and he surrendered an average of 22 home runs per season. That number is staggering for a pitcher who averaged only 170 innings pitched per season.
Because of his propensity to issue walks and high contact rate, Wakefield also managed to post a WHIP below 1.30 only five times. Wakefield was one of the classiest, most well-liked players during his career, but he won’t be invoking any Hall of Fame debates.