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R.A. Dickey May Be a Late Knuckleball Bloomer, But He's Here to Stay

Last night, R.A. Dickey threw his second consecutive one-hitter, as the Mets beat the Orioles. In doing so, Dickey became the first National League pitcher since Mort Cooper in 1943 to throw consecutive one-hitters.

Tim linked an interview from Sunday in the New York Post, and I must say that R.A. Dickey is someone to root for. Born in 1974, with two daughters and two sons, and a late career surge after a change in direction. I think I can really get into the R.A. Dickey phenomenon. If he were only left handed, he would be perfect.

Dickey’s amazing run this year (2.00 ERA this year, 11-1 record, and more than a strikeout per inning) is made even more incredible by the fact that he is soon to be 38 years old and basically re-invented himself as a knuckleball pitcher who is just emerging and fully learning the pitch in the last few years.

I went back through baseball history to find any pitchers who had anything remotely similar to Robert Alan Dickey’s career. Dickey’s first good season came at age 35 with the Mets, when he was 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA. In over 70 starts since 2010, he sports a sub-3.00 ERA with the Mets, so while this current stretch is astonishing, he’s been pretty good for three years now in New York.

Before that, though, his career ERA was 5.48 scattered over 48 starts in parts of 7 different seasons. There is only one other player who had three above average ERA seasons (150+ IP) at age 35 to 37 and had never done it before. That would be a guy nicknamed the Wild Elk of the Wasatch, Ed Heusser, and that was for the Reds from 1944-1946, when younger men were off serving in the War. It really is truly unprecedented. Rick Reed, a former Met, was also a pretty good pitcher from 35 to 37, but he had his breakout year at age 32. Most pitchers who are good at age 35 to 37 were good at a much younger age as well.

What Dickey does have in common with a noticeable subset of the pitchers who were good from age 35 to 37, though, is his pitch of choice. Knuckleballers don’t have to rely speed as much, and thus are a little more impervious to the effects of age. Of the 41 pitchers in baseball history who were above average all three years from age 35 to 37, six others relied on a knuckle ball or knuckle curve: Charlie Hough, Don Sutton, Phil Neikro, Dizzy Trout, Ted Lyons and Bucky Walters. Joe Neikro, Tim Wakefield and Tom Candiotti didn’t quite make the list, but had pretty good years during that span. Most of those knucklers, by the way, were able to have careers that extended into their 40′s. Dickey may have started late, but I wouldn’t rule him out for the next few years.

Where does this season by Dickey currently rank among the best season by a 37 year old of all-time, regardless of what kind of pitcher? Pretty highly if he can finish respectably after his 11-1 start with a 2.00 ERA.

You’d probably have to put in on pace to go Top 5, with these other seasons:

  • Randy Johnson, 2001, 21-6, 2.49 ERA, 376 K’s
  • Curt Schilling, 2004, 21-6, 3.26 ERA
  • Dazzy Vance, 1928, 22-10, 2.09 ERA
  • Walter Johnson, 1925, 20-7, 3.07 ERA
  • Cy Young, 1904, 26-16, 1.97 ERA
  • Lefty Grove, 1937, 17-9, 3.04 ERA
  • Babe Adams, 1937, 17-10, 1.97 ERA
  • Dennis Martinez, 1992, 16-11, 2.47 ERA
  • Virgil Trucks, 1954, 19-12, 2.79 ERA
  • Joe Niekro, 1982, 17-12, 2.47 ERA

That’s some pretty tall cotton. R.A. Dickey isn’t going to keep throwing 1-hitters, but there’s a good chance that at age 37 he not only plays in but starts his first All-Star game, and that he is around baffling hitters for a few more years.

[data from baseball-reference.com, photo via US Presswire]

 

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