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R.A. Dickey would be a perfect fit on the Oakland A’s

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The A’s need to do an A’s thing.

Knuckleball!!
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jharel Cotton was sent back to the Bay Area for an MRI on a sore elbow and we’re all left to assume the worst. We know arm injuries frequently occur during Spring Training, we know elbow injuries often portend to Tommy John surgery, and we know that as A’s fans we can’t have nice things.

The jury is out on Cotton’s status. He’s had elbow issues before that turned out to not be serious, so while my instinct is to mentally prepare for the brutal possibility of never seeing Cotton’s beautiful changeup again, there’s a chance he could be fine. However, there’s also a possibility the A’s have to fill a whole rotation spot on top of their already glaringly weak rotation.

With Cotton at full strength, the idea of getting through the season with the group in tow isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Something like this.

A’s projected starts

Pitcher Projected starts (PECOTA)
Pitcher Projected starts (PECOTA)
Sean Manaea 26
Kendall Graveman 26
Daniel Gossett 23
Jharel Cotton 23
Andrew Triggs 23
Paul Blackburn 19
Daniel Mengden 19
Yusmeiro Petit 3

PECOTA’s calling card isn’t exactness with playing time estimates (though it does it well) and there are obviously a lot of factors that can change how playing time will shake out as time goes on -- injuries, prospects like A.J. Puk emerging, giving up in August and turning to Chris Smith for nine starts, etc.

But it makes sense. No one guy is projected for 35 starts, which is in line with the team’s injury history and youth. Things are probably dicey even with Cotton. The odds that Gossett and Triggs both pitch 23 starts of quality innings is ... low, and that’s before accounting for potentially losing Cotton. This appears to be a bit of a Hail Mary kind of year so maybe quality isn’t crucial; where it matters mostly is just getting through the year and staying healthy. That’s where R.A. Dickey comes in.

Now of course, the A’s could just go and find an Eric Surkamp or a Chris Smith should the need arise as the season wears on. They’re always available but they’re not fun. They’re no R.A. Dickey, whose best case could be interesting, and who could be the A’s 2018 version of Bartolo Colon. Some positives:

  • He doesn’t have a UCL in his right arm so therefore he can’t tear his UCL in his pitching arm.
  • Knuckleballers age outrageously well compared to their harder throwing counterparts.
  • Knuckleballers are awesome.

Tangible qualities

There’s not an innings eater on the market quite like R.A. Dickey. Last year he threw 190 innings, good for 19th most in the league. No pitchers are injury proof, but knuckleballers are about as close as you can get. It seems like they can pitch forever and Dickey’s most likely barrier to throwing a similar amount in 2018 is quality. If he can keep getting outs at a not-painful rate, he can eat a lot of innings.

Since 2010, Dickey’s inning low is 174. He eclipsed 200 innings five times in that span and probably could have the other two years if his quality didn’t wane just a bit.

He’s still been effective though. His ERA+ hasn’t dipped below 96 in any season during that span, including last year when he put up a roughly average ERA of 4.26. That was likely aided by playing in front of a solid defense in Sun Trust park, which leaned pitcher friendly in its opening season. The A’s play in what should be a pitcher friendly park too (it was actually hitter friendly in the small sample that is 2017) and for the first time in a while, should have a solid defense too. Dickey’s adequate 2017 could translate to a similar 2018 in the green and gold.

He outperformed his FIP, but remember he’s a knuckleballer. They’re unconventional in the stat column like they are on the field. Tim Wakefield outperformed his FIP for the majority of his career. Dickey has too, so no huge red flag in his 2017 numbers. He wasn’t lucky in keeping the ball in the yard in spite of being a flyball pitcher, he actually did get a decent number of groundballs, and he induced a fairly weak quality of contact on his airballs (72nd percentile in terms of exit velocity).

Put up a 2018 that’s similar to 2017? That’s something the A’s could sorely use.

The downside

R.A. Dickey is 43 years old. Knuckleballers are durable but not indestructible. Odds are his career ends sometime soon, and 2018 could be the final year his body holds up. Who knows.

At $69 million very nice dollars the A’s seem at capacity budget wise. I can’t imagine the A’s couldn’t fit in Dickey on an incentive laden, $4 million base salary or something like that but it’s not a slam dunk.

Also I probably should have led with this but instead I misled with this: R.A. Dickey might just retire, something he’s very much earned. How interesting is Oakland to a guy at that point in his career? Not very. The A’s haven’t been tied to Dickey at all, though the A’s pitching reality is a little depressing right now so excuse us for indulging.

Knuckleballers are so fun

Poll

R.A. Dickey on a one year deal?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Yes!
    (560 votes)
  • 19%
    Pass.
    (161 votes)
  • 11%
    Please stop writing about non-rumors.
    (97 votes)
818 votes total Vote Now