Note: This is the third in a three part series
In order for the Blue Jays to repeat as AL East champions in 2016 they need a lot of things to go right. Key players need to avoid injury, supporting players need to perform, the team needs to avoid a letdown after the excitement of 2015, off-field distractions can’t get in the way of on-field performance, a 110-win juggernaut can’t suddenly appear from the other teams in the division, and on and on and on.
It’s obvious that the Jays will need big years from Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Tulo, Martin, Stroman, and Osuna. But what about the other guys, the supporting cast who are key to winning?
I have identified three players that are key to Toronto’s success, and who will go a long way in determining if the Jays get back to October.
Today we take a look at the last of those players: R.A. Dickey.
2015 Stats: 33 starts, 214.1 IP, 11 – 11 record, 3.91 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 126 K, 101 ERA+, 2.3 WAR
Career Stats: 240 starts, 1,714 IP, 100 – 93 record, 3.97 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 1,215 K, 103 ERA+, 20.6 WAR
Since being acquired by the Jays in December of 2012, R.A. Dickey has always received a bit of a bad rap – unfairly in my mind. After winning the 2012 NL Cy Young award, he failed to replicate that success in Toronto in 2013 and saw his ERA rise from 2.73 to 4.21. He has traditionally had terrible April’s, putting himself behind the eight ball early. He was acquired in what might go down as one of the most lopsided trades in Blue Jays history, with two potential perennial All-Stars going to the Mets in return. And then he was absolutely crushed by Kansas City in Game 4 of the ALCS putting the Jays down 3-1 in the series. Those things tend to stick in the minds of fans.
But here is what people seem to easily forget. Dickey was traded for. He didn’t get to pick who went back the other way, so blaming him for Syndergaard and d’Arnaud starring for the Mets is absurd. And furthermore, Dickey has done nothing but succeed for the Jays in his three seasons. He has never missed a start, has exceeded 200 IP every year, has posted an ERA+ either right at or just above league average, and has been a rock in the rotation during a time when nobody else was.
That last point is key and worth expanding on. In 2013 only Dickey and Mark Buehrle reached 25 starts, and a total of 13 pitchers made at least one start (including such luminaries as Esmil Rogers, Aaron Laffey, Ramon Ortiz, and Chien-Ming Wang). In 2014 four pitchers reached 25 starts, but Hutchison and Happ were hit hard, and Brandon Morrow was injured again. Then came last season, with the injury to Stroman, the awful year by Hutch, the Sanchez and Norris experiments, and a seemingly revolving door at the fifth starter slot until July. But through it all, there was Dickey, going out every five days and delivering if not a solid start, then at least a passable one.
Last year of course, Dickey shone, posting a 2.78 ERA and an 8 – 2 record over his final 16 starts. The bulk of those starts came after the acquisition of David Price. Coincidence? I think not. In 2013 and 2014 Dickey was expected to be the out-and-out ace of the rotation, to dominate day in and day out. I’m not suggesting that he crumbled under that pressure, but maybe it’s fair to say that his repertoire doesn’t project well in the “ace” role. After Price arrived and that “ace” pressure was removed, Dickey thrived.
This season, the pressure of being a staff ace will fall directly on the shoulders of Marcus Stroman. Dickey will be pushed into more of a supporting role, similar to the second half of last season, and one that he will hopefully thrive in once again.
With the offense the Jays will be putting up in 2016, Dickey doesn’t have to replicate his Cy Young season, or even his latter half of 2015. But he projects as one of the most important members of the rotation because he is expected to a) support Stroman, b) absorb at least 200 innings, and c) never miss a start. On a team with a lot of question marks surrounding the starters, you can’t underestimate the importance of b and c.
In terms of projections, Baseball Reference predicts Dickey to finish 10 – 11, with 189 IP, a 4.10 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 132 K. Fangraphs ZiPS projections peg him to finish with 175 IP, 116 K, and a 4.41 ERA.
Both are a little down, but I think anything close to 200 IP with a sub-4.00 ERA and the Jays will be laughing all the way to October.