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Entries in R.A. Dickey (7)


The 2013 Season of Travail for Team USA Pitchers

As I watched R.A. Dickey and Vinnie Pestano get pummeled on Saturday, I could not help but think of the WBC, because both pitched for Team USA.

Look, I am not going to pretend: I don't like the World Baseball Classic. While I think it is good for building up international baseball, it comes at cost, particularly for pitchers who have to alter their training routines to pitch competitively too early in the spring.

Now that we are at the quarter-pole in the season, it is fair to look at the pitchers who participated for Team USA and see how they are doing.

One spoiler alert, while there are some success stories this season, none of the pitchers are doing better as a result of their participation.

The staff

Jeremy Affeldt appeared in three games in the WBC pitching 3.1 innings. Affeldt has appeared in 18 games this season for the Giants, pitching 15.1 innings and while he has a strong 1-1 record and 2.35 ERA, he has walked eight and has a very high rate of 4.7 walks per nine innings.

Heath Bell pitched two innings in two games for Team USA and is 2-0 for Arizona this season, but has a high 4.05 ERA and very high 1.400 WHIP in his 20 IP.

Mitchell Boggs threw 1.1 innings in his two WBC appearances, but has been brutal for the Cardinals this season going 0-2 with a 10.43 ERA and a 2.318 WHIP. He was ineffective as well when he was sent down to Memphis to work on his mechanics. Between the minors and the majors, Boggs has walked 19 in 20 IP.

Ross Detwiler threw four innings in one game for Team USA and is 2-4 with a 2.76 ERA, but he's been injured since he strained his oblique May 15. The Nationals held off on placing him on the DL until Sunday (May 26).

Ryan Vogelsong threw 9.2 innings in two games for Team USA. Before he went on on the DL for the Giants after fracturing his right hand, Vogelsong was struggling for the Giants with a 2-4 record and an abysmal 7.19 ERA and 1.727 WHIP.

Steve Cishek appeared in four WBC games and threw 2.1 innings. For the Marlins this season he's appeared in 20 games throwing 20.1 innings. He has a 1-4 record, 4.87 ERA, 1.475 WHIP, and while he's struck out 19, he's also walked 11 (4.9 BB/9). He was the Marlin closer but with lefties hitting .341 against him, he has been reduced to a role in the closer by committee.

Craig Kimbrel was in four WBC games tossing 3.2 innings. Kimbrel had been untouchable in 2011-12 with 88 saves and 1.61 ERA and 0.866 WHIP. But while he has been outstanding, he has also been human in 2013 with three blown saves, the same as he totaled all last season. Of greater concern is the six extra-base hits he's given up this season after allowing just four last year and eight in 2011.

R.A. Dickey pitched two WBC games and 9.0 innings. Is that the reason for his apocalyptic season, or is it the trade to the AL and pitching in unfamiliar surroundings? Dickey with Toronto already has the same six losses as he had all last season with the Mets, is walking about twice as many batters as last season (2.1 to 4.1/9) and has a WHIP of 1.354. Batters are being more patient with Dickey this season swinging at 43.0% of his pitches as opposed to 50.4% in part because last season 70.6% of his pitches were strikes or in play, compared just 64.6% this season.

David Hernandez appeared twice in the WBC throwing 1.2 innings. So far in 21 games for Arizona, his ERA is up to 3.32 compared to 2.50 last year and his WHIP is up to 1.338 compared to 1.024 last season.

Vinnie Pestano pitched in three games covering two innings for Joe Torre and Team USA and I doubt he would do it again. Last season's 2.57 ERA has ballooned to 5.25 this year and after 3.1 BB/9 last season, the Indians reliever is up to 5.3 which contributes to his 1.417. He's been on the DL once already this season with a sore right elbow (May 1) and looked simply awful Saturday against the Red Sox serving up more meatballs than an Italian chef in Boston's famed North End.

The five survivors

Tim Collins is still striking out batters for the Royals, whiffing 15 in 14.1 IP, after two games and one inning for team USA. Despite his 3.68 ERA, Collins has a 1.091 WHIP and has not allowed any of the 10 runners he's inherited to score.

Gio Gonzalez pitched five innings in his one WBC appearance. I don't think any team would mind having the Gonzalez who held the Reds to one hit over seven innings and the Cubs to two hits in seven scoreless innings. But the Nationals starter also had three April starts in which he gave up seven runs once and five runs twice. He's had a 1.67 in May.

Luke Gregerson tossed two innings in two games for Team USA and despite his 2-2 record for the Padres, he has a brilliant 0.87 ERA and a microscopic 0.677 WHIP in 20.2 IP. He's held batters to a .116 BAA.

Derek Holland pitched in one game (5 IP) in the WBC. For the Rangers this season he is 4-2 with a strong 2.97 ERA and 1.155 WHIP. He had a very strong game against the Mariners on Saturday after having given up eight runs in 10.1 IP over his prior two starts. he finished May 3-0 with a 2.53 ERA despite a 1.375 WHIP.

Glen Perkins tossed two innings in his two WBC appearances and the Twins reliever seems to have come out fine. His ERA is up (3.24 compared to 2.56) but after averaging 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings last season, he's up to 14.0 this season. Perkins has nine saves in 10 attempts and if someone makes an offer that the Twins can't refuse, the lefty could be traded to a contender at the deadline.

The bottom line

When the time comes for the WBC again, unless you are an unemployed pitcher looking to resurrect your career, I suggest doing what any smart pitcher would do in a tie game in the 9th inning and less than two outs with runners on second and third and Miguel Cabrera coming to the plate: offer an intentional pass.


Which Pitchers are Getting Calls, Getting Squeezed?

Which starting pitchers are benefiting from a generous strike zone this season? Which starters are grumbling as yet another borderline call goes the batter's way? Here's a quick rundown of pitchers with the highest and lowest called strike rates in 2013.

Highest called strike rates on in-zone pitches


Overall, umps call about four out of every five pitches taken in the zone a strike. But Jake Peavy is getting more credit for those over-the-plate-pitches than most. So are crafty lefties Mike Minor and Andy Pettitte. None of the guys in the top ten exactly lights up the radar gun. That makes sense, considering lower-velocity fastballs tend to get more called strikes than mid-90s heat.


Lowest called strike rate on in-zone pitches


On the flip side, Jon Niese has a reason to hold a grudge against Big Blue. The rest of the top ten is a mixed bag of power pitchers, breaking ball and off-speed reliant junk ballers and a knuckleballer. All of them are at a disadvantage in getting called strikes. High-velocity fastballs have lower called strike rates than slower ones, as mentioned above. Curveballs (81% called strike rate on in-zone pitches), sliders (79%) and changeups (78%) have lower called strike rates than fastballs (82%). And umps, like all other human beings on Earth, have a hard time figuring out what the heck a knuckleball is doing. Dating back to 2008, in-zone knucklers (a sample that basically amounts to pitches thrown by R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield and a few spot-starter aspirants) have a called strike rate of 73%.


Highest called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches

Interestingly, all of the starters getting calls on out-of-zone pitches are right-handers. It looks like they're taking advantage of umpires' tendency to stretch the outside corner for left-handed batters (the called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches thrown away to lefty batters is about 16%). Jeremy Hellickson (29%), Mat Latos (26%), Alex Cobb and Justin Verlander (23%) rank at the top of the list when it comes to getting calls on that outside corner versus lefty batters.

Lowest called strike rate on out-of-zone pitches

Pfft. Like Matt Harvey needs the help. Tim Lincecum, on the other hand...


Hitters Laying Off Dickey's Knuckler

For three years in Queens, R.A. Dickey disproved the notion that knuckleball pitchers are mercurial creatures whose control goes through jarring spells of precision and wildness. Dickey issued just 2.2 walks per nine innings with the Mets from 2010-12, compared to the average of 2.9 BB/9 for starting pitchers over that time frame. Flutterball pitcher or not, Dickey didn't hurt himself with free passes.

In 2013, though, the reigning Cy Young Award winner has walked 4.1 batters per nine frames with the Blue Jays. That's his highest walk rate since he was but a knuckleball neophyte getting lit up in Minnesota. You might think that Dickey hasn't been as sharp with his knuckler this season, and that's part of the problem (his percentage of knuckleballs thrown in the strike zone has decreased from 54% in 2012 to 51% in 2013). But the bigger issue is that hitters haven't been nearly as tempted to take a cut at Dickey's signature pitch as it dances off the plate.

Check out opponents' swing rate by pitch location against Dickey's knuckleball during his Cy Young season in 2012, and his Cy Yuk year so far in 2013. Pay particularly close attention to knucklers thrown around hitters' knees:




Dickey got hitters to chase 34% of his knuckleballs out of the strike zone last season. This year? Just 23%. The decline in chases is most acute on low knucklers -- 31% in 2012, and 13% in 2013. Compounding matters, Dickey is throwing more out-of-the-zone knuckleballs low this season (41%) than last (32%).

Without all of those chases, Dickey is falling behind in the count nearly twice as often as he did last season (14.5% of hitters' plate appearances last year, 27.4% in 2013). That's a recipe for not just walks, but also extra-base knocks from so many unfavorable counts. It's hard to say why hitters are suddenly laying of Dickey's low knucklers. But it might be time for a meeting of the Jedi Council of Knuckleballers.

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