Wednesday afternoon, Robert Allen Dickey spun a nifty two-hit shutout. It's been a disappointing season for Dickey (and fans of his baseball team), but his 88 Game Score is the ninth-best this season for a pitcher facing an American League team. Of course, last season Dickey threw two one-hitters. But this latest gem is a good sign, right? Yes, and especially if he's able to maintain the speed he showed the Rays Wednesday. Dave Cameron:
As Eno Sarris noted back in May, Dickey’s velocity has been noticeably down this year, and while that might not seem like a big deal for a knuckleball pitcher, Dickey’s velocity with the floater is what has set him apart from previous hurlers who threw the pitch. In an interview with Sarris a few weeks back, Dickey noted that health issues have contributed to the problem, but he was hopeful that he’d be able to bounce back soon.
While PITCHF/x has Dickey's average knuckleball velocity at 75.0 mph this year, today it recorded his average velo at 76.7 mph, his highest average velocity since Opening Day.
It's been my position for some time that Dickey's brilliance last season was almost entirely due to his angry knuckler, which he routinely threw at 79 or 80 miles an hour. I'm not sure if there's a magic formula, though. Last season he averaged 77 miles an hour with his knuckleball, and was brilliant. In the two seasons before that, he averaged 76 miles an hour and was quite good. One wouldn't think that dropping to 75 this season would result in the dramatically worse performance we saw before today.
Pitching's complicated. It's quite possible that the same health issues that kept him from throwing quite as hard have also damaged his control somehow. The bottom line, I suspect, isn't that Dickey needs to throw 77 and occasionally 80 to thrive, but rather that he needs to be healthier than he's been.
Which brings to mind another position that I've taken for some time ... It's tempting to assume that Dickey can pitch effectively well into his middle 40s or even beyond, just like Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough and Hoyt Wilhelm. But those pitchers weren't throwing angrily; they were delivering their pitches with relatively low-stress deliveries. Watch Dickey pitch next time, and the term low-stress isn't likely to come to mind.
Knuckleball pitchers are always walking a very fine line. It's a testament to Dickey that he's been able to walk that line, while drawing it even finer. But I suspect it's also easier for him to fall off it.
For much more about Dickey and the Other 24 Blue Jays, please visit SB Nation's Bluebird Banter.