Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 2/17/13
The biggest surprise about R.A. Dickey‘s 2012 season — Cy Young Award aside — was the drastic increase in strikeouts. Last year was Dickey’s seventh year featuring a knuckleball, but in the previous six seasons he’d never topped 5.88 K/9 (2009 with the Twins). It’s true that he now features what could rightly be termed a high-velocity knuckler (his average knuckleball velocity has increased every season), but does the 1.0 mph rise from 2011 explain that kind of spike in strikeout rate?It probably has more to do with the kind of knuckling action Dickey got. The knuckleball is an unpredictable pitch, even for the pitcher throwing it. While a knuckleball can pretty much move in any direction, the idea is to maximize that random movement. Brooksbaseball.net tracks the velocity and movement of every pitch thrown across the league, including  Dickey’s knuckler, and according to them Dickey’s average knuckleball moved more last year than in either 2010 or 2011. In 2010 it had an average vertical movement of -0.30 inches (negative indicates downward movement). In 2011 the average vertical movement was -0.16. In 2012 it was 1.33. Not only was Dickey’s knuckleball traveling faster in 2012, it was also moving more (and differently) than it had in years past. That helps explain the drastic rise in strikeout rate.Now we just have to see if he can do it again.At a GlanceStrengths: W, L, K, ERA, QSNeutral: WHIP, K/9Weaknesses: nonePlayer ComparisonsBest-case scenario: Adam Wainwright (STL)Likely scenario: Jered Weaver (LAA), Doug Fister (DET), Johnny Cueto (CIN)Worst-case scenario: A.J. Burnett (PIT)R.A. Dickey 2013 Fantasy ProjectionDickey’s made a living out of the randomness of his feature offering, but his knuckleball might be the only known factor carrying over from 2012. This year he finds himself in a new league with a new team that itself features a new manager and a lot of key new pieces. For the first time in his career, Dickey will be counted upon to be the rock of a team with World Series aspirations. From what I hear Canadians are even-tempered people, but if he Dickey isn’t close to the same player he was last year, a rejuvenated fan base might not react too well.That sounds like a whole lot of pressure to me.We think Dickey’s strikeout rate remains high, but I don’t like projecting an identical K rate only because last year’s was far and away the best he’d ever done and strikeout rates do tend to fall for pitchers moving from the NL to the AL. A decreased strikeout rate means more balls in play, and the Rogers Centre is a more homer-friendly environment (park factor for homers of 109) than Citi Field (93). While Dickey is a ground ball pitcher, he’ll likely allow more homers this year because of those two factors, and that’ll make it very tough for him to replicate that sparkling 2.73 ERA and 3.27 FIP.Oh, and don’t expect 20 wins again. I get that he’s a workhorse starter that won 20 games last year on an inferior Mets team, but wins are very unpredictable and there are only a handful of 20-game winners out there. CC Sabathia won just 15 games last year despite tossing 200 innings for a 95-win team. Dickey’s win total in 2012 has little bearing on his win total in 2013. Don’t read all of this as me being pessimistic, it’s just better to project some regression across the board. Dickey is still one of the better pitching options in fantasy this year, but there are a lot of reasons to proceed with caution.(It should also be noted that our best-case comparison of Adam Wainwright is strong praise. We really like Wainwright this season.)
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