The Case For R.A. Dickey On The Red Sox

Mike Stobe

R.A. Dickey could be available now that extension talks with New York have stalled. If he is, the Red Sox should make a play for the 2012 N.L. Cy Young winner.

As you may have heard, the Red Sox are in need of rotation help. Whatever metric you decide to look at, it will tell you that the 2012 Red Sox starting rotation was lousy. They were lousy by ERA (12th in the American League), FIP (12th), xFIP (ninth), SIERA (ninth) tERA (12th)… basically, by any combination of three to five letters, the Red Sox rotation was awful. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are both gone, the Daniel Bard-as-starting-pitcher disaster is behind us and Aaron Cook is no longer even an emergency option, so some addition-by-subtraction has already taken place. At this point, though, the team needs to do some addition by addition as well.

Boston has Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront and John Lackey penciled in to the rotation right now, and Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Steven Wright and Matt Barnes close to the majors, but they need to add one starter and given the way Lester, Doubront and Buchholz struggled in 2012, it should probably be a top-of-the rotation type pitcher if Boston wants to compete next year. I believe it should be R.A. Dickey. Now that the Mets extension talks have stalled, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner is being discussed as a trade candidate and the Red Sox are a perfect fit.

Dickey was fantastic in 2012. He was second in the National League in ERA and in wins and the more predictive metrics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA were very strong as well, even if they did not see him as being quite the pitcher his ERA suggests. His strike out rate (24.8%) was excellent last year, as was his walk rate (5.8%). The strike outs numbers are a huge leap from his previous two seasons with the Mets, but the walk rate has been fairly consistent and contact against his knuckle ball has been distinctly weak. His batting average on balls in play has been well below league average for three straight seasons and he has generates an above average number of ground balls, which is unusual for a knuckleball specialist. Despite throwing the knuckleball, his FB/HR rate was league average. That could slip some away from Citifield, but Fenway is not really a bad park for righties with respect to home runs. Most importantly, Dickey has been extremely reliable. He threw 233 innings lat year while pitching with a torn abdominal muscle. He threw 208 innings in 2011 and 174 in 2010.

If you saw Dickey pitch in 2012, I probably don’t need me to tell you how good he was. It was a special season and he may never have another one on par with it. However, while he is 37 years old and a veteran of eleven seasons, he has only been throwing the knuckle ball since 2006 and prior to joining the Mets, he had just 177 innings in the majors as a knuckleballer. Essentially, he has improved every year since becoming a full time starter. Thinking about his career as knuckleball pitcher separately, 2012 begins to look more like a breakout year less like a fluke.

The Red Sox should be interested in Dickey for a number of reasons that go beyond his incredible 2012 season. There are a limited number of teams that have experience working with a knuckleball pitcher and none that have as much as Boston. Manager John Farrell worked with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for years and knows more about handling a knuckleball pitcher than just about any manager in baseball. If any team can get the most out of Dickey, it should be Farrell’s Red Sox. There is also Steven Wright to consider. The Red Sox acquired the knuckleballing Wright from the Indians for Lars Anderson and he showed tremendous promise in his short time in the minors here last year. Wright, like Dickey, began his career as a normal pitcher and has just recently transitioned to using the knuckleball full time. He is far more similar to Dickey than Wakefield, throwing his "angry" knuckleball in the mid-to-upper 70’s. Bringing Dickey into the fold could help Wright fulfill his potential.

The biggest reason for the Red Sox to make a move for Dickey is how well he fits into the new organization philosophy. While signing Greinke would require a commitment of up to seven years, Dickey is under contract for just one more season and his current extension talks have focused on buying out his $5M contract for 2013 and replacing it with a three year deal for around $30M. With the Red Sox trying to avoid any long term commitments, Dickey is the perfect fit. The cost in trade will be high, but it will be nowhere near the cost of a James Shields or David Price. Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway could appeal to the Mets as they look for catching help. Certainly any one of the Red Sox top 5 prospects would get it done, but given that he could walk next year without an extension, Boston should be able to find a way to swing this one even without moving Bogaerts, Barnes, Bradley or Webster. Following a trade, extending Dickey would be a no brainer for the Red Sox, with all the available cash they have.

R.A. Dickey is tailor-made for a Red Sox team looking for creative solutions to help their rotation. With Mike Napoli and the Red Sox coming to terms, the rotation should be the next priority and Dickey should at the top of his list.

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