This final key to R.A. Dickey succeeding in the AL East in 2013 isn't some dig at the Mets. Pitching for the Mets offered a number of perks, including pitching in a division considered favorable for pitchers and pitching in a pitcher-friendly park, according to MLB Park Factors.
However, the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays also offer Dickey a significant number of perks that were not previously available to him in Flushing, N.Y.
Pitching for a franchise that has suddenly shown a much greater willingness to spend money and a greater appreciation for what Dickey offers as a pitcher will provide new benefits to Dickey's success going forward.
Taking advantage of these "perks" will go a long way in helping Dickey succeed in his newest challenge: conquering the tough lineups of the American League East.
These perks, which will be touched upon in this slide, include: pitching in Rogers Centre (yes, it can be to Dickey's benefit), having an improved offense behind him, having a choice of personal catchers and pitching in a city and for a team that are conducive to his success.
Although Rogers Centre had a lower Home Run Factor than Citi Field last season, no one truly believes the Rogers Centre is the more pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Despite the lower Home Run Factor in 2012, Citi Field had a significantly lower number the two seasons prior and there were still more home runs hit in the Rogers Centre in 2012 than in Citi Field. Rogers Centre also had a higher overall park factor, favoring hitters.
Rogers Centre may be a more difficult place to pitch based on its dimensions, but the atmospheric conditions may be more preferable for Dickey.
There have been a plethora of studies conducted, myriad of data gathered and an abundant amount of speculation made as to the effect of pitching in a domed stadium with a retractable roof will have on the knuckleball. No one knows what effect Rogers Centre will have on Dickey—there isn't much to go off of historically.
One thing we do know is that Rogers Centre offers a much more controlled environment; some of Dickey's worst performances in the past three seasons—including his worst start of 2012 on April 18 against the Braves—occurred during adverse weather conditions. Heavy winds and rain can make the knuckleball increasingly unpredictable and hard to locate.
In a domed stadium with a retractable roof, these issues should be minimized. Perhaps some light wind would be best for Dickey or perhaps no wind at all (we all saw how he dominated in his lone indoors start against the Rays last season) will be most desirable.
What we do know is that in an environment like the Rogers Centre where the elements can be controlled, it is less likely that Dickey will have to battle with strong winds and rain.
Tom Candiotti, a former knuckleballer, who pitched with the Blue Jays, said pitching in the Rogers Centre (back when it was still called the Skydome) was great, even if the numbers don't support his individual claim.
Meanwhile, knuckleballers such as Tim Wakefield and Phil Niekro had almost identical career numbers when comparing pitching outdoors to pitching in a dome.
One thing we do know is Dickey can at least avoid the egregious weather conditions that rendered his knuckleball extremely hittable in the past, including strong winds and rain. With less wind and the roof only open for favorable conditions, Dickey—in theory—should have more control over his knuckler in his home starts.
So despite Citi Field being more "pitcher-friendly" in some aspects, Dickey may benefit more from the stable conditions of the Rogers Centre.
Dickey will also likely see an increase in run support, giving him a slightly greater margin of error. Dickey actually got decent run support last season—the Mets averaged 4.61 runs in his starts. However, the Blue Jays got their only two qualifying starters, Henderson Alvarez (4.74 runs per start) and Ricky Romero (4.75 runs per start), slightly more support.
Those numbers should only increase with the offensive improvements made by the Blue Jays in the offseason. Pitching with better run support on a team likely to be in contention should give Dickey all the motivation he needs to continue to excel for a full season.
Dickey showed he could thrive under pressure and high-leverage situations—the few times they presented themselves last year—so he could benefit from finding himself pitching even better on a competitive team with a strong offense.
The Jays have also done everything they can to show their appreciation for Dickey. They gave him the extension he wanted, so now all he has to worry about is going out and pitching as well as he has for the last three years.
There are no off-the-field issues or bad blood with management. The Toronto media are less likely to stir things up than the media circus of the Big Apple. Dickey should benefit from all the intangibles of pitching in Toronto.
The Blue Jays even gave him a variety of catching options who have experience with his knuckleball. They acquired Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas in the same trade in which they landed Dickey, giving the team two personal catcher options.
Taking it one step further, they even inked Henry Blanco to a minor league and are poised to give him the backup catcher job, specifically to be Dickey's personal catcher.
It's not a coincidence that in an interview last year, Dickey claimed Blanco was the best at catching his knuckleball of all the catchers he's had. The Blue Jays have done everything they can to make the transition as seamless as possible by taking as much stress as they can off Dickey.
This isn't to say that pitching in Toronto is the ideal location for any pitcher, but there are a number of perks to R.A. Dickey being a Blue Jay and he will need to utilize them to succeed. He will need to take advantage of the stable conditions of pitching at home (and in Tampa) and take advantage of the fact that all he needs to worry about right now is going out every fifth day and pitching.
The Blue Jays gave him the extension he wanted, gave him a good offense and defense to support him and even gave him a variety of personal catching options.
Now it's up to Dickey to go out and pitch like he has the last three seasons, albeit for a new team in a new division.
With his natural abilities as a pitcher combined with a new environment conducive to his success, all the "keys" are there for Dickey to succeed against the tough lineups of the AL East in 2013.