Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is in the midst of a consecutive 43 inning scoreless streak and one heck of a season where he has posted a 2.00 ERA with a career best 1.9 BB/9 and 9.4 K/9.
It’s really an amazing feat accomplished by somebody whose primary pitch is regarded as one of the hardest in baseball to control. We really don’t have to go back that far though since the last time a knuckleballer had a great run similar to this.
Back in 1995, Tim Wakefield‘s first season with the Red Sox, he went on a 14 game run where over 108.1 innings he posted a 1.58 ERA with a 5.73 K/9 and a 2.49 BB/9.
The thing is, Wakefield cooled off quite considerably in the second half posting a 5.60 ERA over his final 10 starts including one clunker the Red Sox ended up losing 15-4 to the Yankees on September 8th that year. Over the rest of his career Wakefield was never really able to replicate that success either. Outside of 2002, where he pitched 30 games in relief, he never posted an ERA+ above 115 in the remaining 16 seasons in the bigs.
Like Wakefield, we can expect Dickey to have a worse second half, but that is mainly because he has been so good that he is unlikely to sustain it. But how realistic is it that, like Wakefield, he reverts to just a slightly above average starter rather than the Cy Young pace he’s on now?
For one thing, Wakefield never posted a K/BB ratio anywhere close to the 4.90 Dickey is currently sporting. Even in ’95, Wakefield’s K/BB was just 1.75, close to his career 1.79 mark and even his career high of 2.63 in 2002 was on the extreme end of the spectrum that he never was able to replicate.
It’s hard to say if Dickey’s ratio is real though in the sense that it isn’t just luck. For one thing his 9.4 K/9 is nearly double the 5.8 he posted last year and by far his best mark since back in 2003 (7.3) when he wasn’t even a knuckleballer. His 1.9 BB/9 is also a full walk per nine better than his career mark of 2.9.
I guess that what I’m saying is that it’s too early to tell if this is the true Dickey or just luck. He certainly seems like a better pitcher than Wakefield was, but as the saying goes – you are never as good as you appear to be when you’re on a hot streak just like you are not as bad as you appear to be when you are in a slump.
It’s possible that Dickey is just coming into his own and this is the start of a great career as a successful knuckleballer or perhaps it’s just a great run that will end when the league learns to adjust. Either way, I like the Yankees chances tonight as they have had a lot of experience facing Wakefield’s knuckleball over the years.