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R.A. no longer really awesome

5/5/2013

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The sort of start that R.A. Dickey had on Saturday is one that the Toronto Blue Jays probably figured they’d rarely see this season.

But Dickey has dealt with injuries and has had as many downs as he’s had ups in 2013. He’s had two starts in which he allowed seven earned runs this season, something he did only twice in 92 starts from 2009 to 2012.

Here’s a closer look at the struggles that have produced a 5.36 ERA in seven starts..

Home not so sweet

The Rogers Centre has not provided the sort of home-field comfort that Dickey had with the New York Mets in Citi Field.

Dickey already has three losses at Rogers Centre. That’s as many as he had at home all of last season, when he went 10-3 at home en route to winning the Cy Young.

Rogers Centre has a statistical reputation as being hitter-friendly and Dickey has had issues dealing with that. He’s allowed six home runs on 368 pitches there (about one every 61 pitches). Over the previous three seasons, Dickey allowed homers at a rate of about one for every 200 pitches he threw at Citi Field.

Hitters not chasing

One of the elements of Dickey’s success last season was how often he could get a hitter to chase a pitch out of the strike zone.

Last season, Dickey got opposing hitters to chase one-third of the pitches thrown outside of the strike zone.

In 2013, he’s only gotten hitters to chase that often once in seven starts, which happened to be his best start (six scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox on April 18).

The Mariners chase rate on Saturday (16 percent) was his lowest in a single game in nearly two full years.

He’s lost some velocity

Dickey averaged 77 mph on his knuckleball last season, but this season, his average knuckler has registered 75 mph.

R.A. Dickey Knuckleball

The slashline on Dickey’s sub 80 mile-per-hour knuckler is almost exactly the same in 2013 (.226/.294/.397) as it was in 2012 (.241/.293/.382).

But Dickey is missing the pitch that made a huge difference last season--- the hard knuckleball.

Last year, he threw nearly 500 of them (491 by our count). They netted him 179 outs and only 31 hits/walks allowed. Of those outs, 92 were via strikeout. It served as the ideal putaway pitch

This season, Dickey has pitched through neck and back inflammation. He was able to pitch through a torn abdominal muscle for the last five months of last season and made every start on the way to winning the Cy Young.

Dickey has thrown a total of 12 knuckleballs with an average speed of 80 miles-per-hour or faster all season and has only thrown more than three of them in only one start. He had none on Saturday against the Mariners.

Looking ahead

Dickey’s next start will be at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.

That ballpark was the site of one of the best starts of his major-league career, a 12-strikeout one-hitter last June 13 (the only hit was an infield single). The hard knuckler was a prominent component of his success that day (he threw 39, two shy of his season-high), as was his ability to get Rays hitters to chase (they did so at a 41 percent rate).

This start may provide a chance for Dickey to turn his fortunes around. Current members of the Rays roster are a combined 6-for-52 against him

John Fisher and Jeremy Mills also contributed to this post