Eh Game

R.A. Dickey reflects on first season with Blue Jays

(Getty)From beginning to end, through the highs and (mostly) lows, R.A. Dickey was always there for the Toronto Blue Jays.

His first start came in Opening Day's 4-1 loss to Cleveland. His 34th and final start came in Friday's 6-3 win over Tampa Bay.

In between, he made two starts (No. 15 and No. 16) during the Jays' 11-game winning streak. Start No. 13 was a two-hit gem against the Giants in San Francisco and start No. 17 was a complete game shutout against the Rays in Tampa Bay. Every start from April to September, some more memorable than others, are all equally part of the Picasso painting that was Dickey's 2013 season.

“He had a good year," said manager John Gibbons. "He finished strong, he made all his starts, [he did a] good job.”

Acquiring Dickey was the crowning achievement of GM Alex Anthopoulos' offseason overhaul that was expected to push the Blue Jays over the top. Anthopoulos paid a heavy price for the 38-year-old knuckleballer, parting ways with top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to bring in the reigning N.L. Cy Young award winner last winter.

“[New York baseball columnist] Marty Noble said a very wise thing to me at the end of last season. He said that the only bad thing about winning a Cy Young is that they’re going to expect you to win it every year and there’s a lot of truth in that this year," said Dickey. "I won a Cy Young last year and I did not live up to what that year was last year. There was a big trade made, a lot of pieces were given up for me so there’s an expectation that comes with that and I take that very seriously but I have to do a good job of making sure I hold it in the right perspective as well.”

Dickey finished the year with 224 2/3 innings pitched, 4th most in the major leagues, and a 4.21 ERA while maintaining a 7.1 K/9 and a 2.8 BB/9. While proving durable, his numbers across the board are predictably down from his Cy Young campaign but considering the struggles he encountered over the season's first two months, his second half performance offered signs of encouragement.

"This year presented a lot of different adversities, whether it was a broken nail or a torn rhomboid (upper back muscle), roof open, [or] roof closed [at the Rogers Centre]. You can’t use that as a crutch because it won’t do you any good," said Dickey. "There’s a lot of positives that I’d like to take from the last three months. I certainly am glad that I was able to string a couple good months together and I feel like I gave glimpses of what I can be for this team over that span."

In 96 innings post All-Star break, Dickey's ERA was a respectable 3.56. He increased his strikeout rate by over one and half over nine innings and lowered his walk rate by a full walk. He was also aided by having an upgraded infield defence with the full-time presence of Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes behind him.

R.A. Dickey April 2 – July 11 (20 GS) July 21 – Sept 27 (14 GS)
K/9 6.4 8.0
BB/9 3.3 2.3

Those are significant improvements in two of the three areas that should be first considered when evaluating a pitcher. The third area created a challenge that plagued Dickey throughout the season.

A decreasing ground ball rate, along with the move to the hitter-friendly AL East, led to an increase in home runs allowed. The 35 home runs he surrendered ranked second highest in the majors.

"I gave up a lot of home runs, a lot more than I ever anticipated giving up," said Dickey. "I feel like my average against is decent so I need to limit my walks and the guys that get on-base so that those don’t become two and three run home runs like they were early in the season."

By improving his strikeout and walk numbers, Dickey was able to blunt the damage done by a ball leaving the park. In fact, his home run rate or batting average against didn't change as he put together better results down the stretch.

R.A. Dickey April 2 – July 11 (20 GS) July 21 – Sept 27 (14 GS)
BA against .241 .239
HR/9 1.4 1.4

The second half surge doesn't dismiss the poor start to the season but the atmosphere around Dickey and the Blue Jays was so contaminated with expectations and disappointment that it's easy to overlook the strides he made on the mound.

The questions about whether or not Toronto gave up too much or if a knuckleballer can truly be trusted will continue to be a part of the narrative with Dickey. His story is far from over.

"I knew this was going to be a ginormous challenge. That’s one of the reasons I signed here," said Dickey. "I never thought ‘what have I done?’. It’s much more as a challenge and what do I need to do to get better in this division and that’s what makes it fun to come to the park."

Accountable and accurate in self-evaluation, it was a long season for the Jays and for better or worse, Dickey was present every step of the way. He'll be back next year, trying to ensure that there's more fun at the park in Toronto in 2014.

Yahoo! Sports Authors