It is easy to look at RA Dickey’s 8-13 record in 2011 and be underwhelmed. Easy, but foolish. Dickey has been the team’s best pitcher, and has essentially kept pace with his revelatory 2010 season. His ERA stands at 3.35, after a 2.84 mark last year. His strikeout rate has actually improved, from 5.4/9 to 5.8/9, while the real secret of his success, command of the knuckleball, has kept his walk rate low-2/4/9 this year, after 2.2/9 last season. His xFIP is a solid 3.96, up just a bit from last year’s 3.75. And he’s already passed 200 innings on the season.
Dickey, remember, signed a two-year, $6.8 million contract last winter. Some people were skeptical, and the basics seemed to support them: a two-year deal for a 36-year-old pitcher with one season of success? But Dickey is a knuckleball pitcher, and the rules/aging patterns are different for them.
It is awfully encouraging that the Mets have Dickey signed for $2.25 million this season, $4.25 million in 2012, and hold a $5 million option for 2013 (with $300,000 buyout). His performance this season would be a bargain at any of those three salaries.
But would it surprise you to know he’s been the second-most valuable pitcher of any who signed last winter, regardless of salary?
Dickey’s been worth 4.6 wins above replacement (WAR) in 2011, good for 16th in all of baseball among starting pitchers. Those pitchers ahead of him: Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee (the only signing of the offseason with more value than Dickey in 2011, but who will make more in 2011 than Dickey will make over the life of his contract, even if the Mets pick up the 2013 option), Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Ricky Romero, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Doug Fister, Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson. That’s pretty good company. And pitchers Dickey bested include Tim Lincecum, David Price, Dan Haren, Matt Cain… and everyone else not on the first list. Roy Oswalt. Zach Greinke. Tim Hudson. Shrimp gumbo, shrimp scampi…
But to reiterate, among pitchers available last winter, only Lee finished ahead of Dickey. Consider that Carl Pavano made $8 million this year (and is signed for $8.5 million next year) for 1.5 WAR, a third of Dickey’s value. Jon Garland made more than twice what Dickey made in 2011-$5 million- and finished with a -0.1 WAR. Javier Vazquez made three times what Dickey made ($7 million), and more in 2011 than Dickey will make in 2011 and 2012 combined. His 1.7 WAR was about a third of Dickey’s as well.
Why does this matter? Well, think of it this way: every time the Mets pay more money for less production (Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, Jason Bay, etc.), it limits how they can add to the roster. Every time they add someone like Dickey, providing above market-value production, it increases their flexibility. With the extreme financial circumstances facing the Wilpons in the short term, that simply may not matter. But once those circumstances no longer exist- and one way or another, that’s simply a matter of time- having Dickey on board will go a long way toward providing the team with money to spend in other areas.
I’m not going to say that the above article was an extended advertisement for the film “Moneyball”. But feel free to take it that way.