If you ask major league hitters what is the toughest pitch to hit, undoubtedly one of the top answers would be the knuckleball. Which makes the following stat a bit tough to believe: Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is the easiest pitcher in baseball right now for batters to hit a HR once they hit the ball in the air. Dickey has an MLB-worst 33.3 HR/FB rate.
Except for his start in Atlanta when the weather conditions were not good, Dickey has not pitched bad this year. In fact, it has been the exact opposite. After being a hard-luck loser last year at 8-13, he is 3-1 in 2012. Dickey’s 8.14 K/9 is easily a career-best and he is still keeping his BB/9 at a good clip at 2.96. Opposing batters are hitting just .266 against him and he has a .288 BABIP.
But Dickey sits with a 4.44 ERA because he has allowed 7 HR this year, surrendering a homer in each game he has pitched. Last night against the Astros, Dickey had a no-hitter through five innings. He allowed a leadoff single in the sixth. Two more hits followed in the inning, including a two-run homer. The Mets rallied to tie the game and get Dickey off the hook for the decision, but on a night where he had good stuff, Dickey finished with 3 ER in 6 IP.
Just how much are the gopher balls hurting Dickey in 2012? Here are his five starts this year and how many runs scored on homers:
4/7 – 2 runs, both on a HR
4/13 – 1 run on a solo HR
4/18 – 8 runs, 6 on HR
4/25 – 1 run on a solo HR
4/30 – 3 runs, 2 on HR
Dickey has given up 15 runs this year and 12 of those have scored on HR. For a comparison, Dillon Gee has surrendered 16 runs this year with five of those scoring via HR.
In his previous two years with the Mets, Dickey has not had this trouble with the gopher ball. An average HR/FB ratio is about 10 percent and Dickey has posted HR/FB numbers of 8.5 and 8.3 the past two seasons. And we cannot blame the new dimensions at Citi Field, as five of the seven homers have come in road parks.
Clearly one out of every three fly balls allowed by Dickey will not go over the fence in 2012. Regression will arrive and the home runs will decrease. But while he has been unlucky with homers, Dickey has been quite fortunate with his strand rate. After posting above-average LOB% in 2010 (77.3) and 2011 (75.1), Dickey sits with an 85.4 rate this season.
It all adds up to a 3.12 xFIP for Dickey in 2012. It is certainly up for debate if xFIP is an appropriate measurement for Dickey, as the metric assumes an average BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB rate for each pitcher and we know there is nothing “average” about a knuckleball pitcher. But, if we take it at face value, it is an indication of how well Dickey is pitching in 2012, as his xFIP is the 21st-best mark in the majors.
Regardless, Dickey remains must-watch TV. He has the best chance of any pitcher in the rotation to pitch a no-hitter. And for you chicks who still dig the long ball, he gives up more of those than anyone on the staff. So no matter if you like to see offense or defense when you tune in a game, Dickey gives you a good chance to see either. And as we saw last night, you can even see both.