Pitcher preview: R.A. Dickey

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays will open their season against R.A. Dickey, a nontraditional former ace looking to recapture the form that made him the 2012 National League Cy Young award winner. You can see a preview of the pitching matchups and opposing offenses here. And click here for the Bluebird Banter preview of David Price.

Usually, when I show a pitcher's pitch movement graph, I show the one without the affects of gravity. Gravity is the same for all pitchers, so in a graph it can serve to obscure what makes any one pitcher different. But Dickey is so unusual that it's impossible to understand his unique approach without considering it. Below is his movement chart, with gravity, from the beginning several months of last season (only showing a few months to make the graph readable).

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Obviously, his bread-and-butter pitch is the mid-70s knuckleball. A knuckleball is thrown with no spin, so it doesn't move in any single direction. One pitch might break up and to the left while the very next one goes down and to the right. Even Dickey doesn't know where it will go, so there's no way for the batter to know.

Dickey complements his knuckleball with a generic 80 mph fastball that doesn't get crushed because he doesn't show it often. What make him unique, as far as knuckleballers go, is that third pitch labeled as an eephus. It's not. It's another knuckleball thrown ten full miles-per-hour slower than his other knuckler. And because it takes longer to get there, it falls (due to gravity) quite a bit more than his fast knuckleball despite having identical (neutral movement). Think of it as the bizarro version of a good fastball/changeup combo.

Now Dickey wasn't exactly ace-like last season. His 4.21 ERA was no BABIP or HR/FB fluke, as shown by his 4.58 FIP and 4.23 xFIP. His strikeout rate, which jumped nearly ten percentage points to 25% for the 2012 season fell to 19% in 2013, and his walk rate climbed to a higher level than it's been at since he was a journeyman still perfecting the knuckleball. Still, Dickey has shown the ability to pitch at the highest level in the past. I would expect more passed balls/wild pitches than runs.

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