I always thought R.A. Dickey could find truth and authenticity. I never thought anyone could find the perfect knuckleball.
Maybe he has.
As fantasy gamers surely know by now, Dickey has been the smash of the season, the biggest out-of-nowhere story. Mind you, he was solid for the Mets in 2010 and 2011, a streamable option if you had to worry about K/9 rate and a full-time option if you didn't. But no one expected him to morph into the most dominant pitcher in the majors, a bagel machine and a strikeout machine.
Dickey threw his second straight one-hitter in Monday's whitewash of the Orioles. This is his Dave Stieb moment. Dickey is the top-rated fantasy pitcher according to the Yahoo! formula, and his last six starts have been utterly ridiculous: 48.2 IP, 21 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 63 K. That's not major league baseball, that's wiffle ball in the backyard.
Before we try to tackle Dickey's future value, let's establish one thing: I've been a knuckleball sympathizer my entire life. I've read Ball Four about 15 times, rooted for both of the Niekros. My eighth-grade art teacher used to tell me stories about her neighbor, Wilbur Wood. And I was at a lot of Tim Wakefield's games back in 1995, when Wakefield had one of the best pitching runs I've ever seen.
Wakefield's 17-game streak from 1995 stacked up this way: 14-1 record, 1.65 ERA, 1.03 WHIP. His K/BB rate for that run was ordinary: 79 whiffs, 37 walks over 131 innings. The league had a .226 BABIP over that stretch, though it's been proven that knucklers will often have hit rates under the league norms. The pixie dust wore out in mid-August that year, and Wakefield had a 5.60 ERA over his final 10 starts.
Although Dickey's obviously doing his magic with the same pitch as Wakefield, this is not your father's knuckleball (even Phil Niekro admits this is the best run any knuckler has ever been on). Dickey throws the pitch a lot harder, and his strikeout rate from 2012 has been obscene. Dickey's K/9 was under six for his first two New York seasons; it's at 9.36 now. His swinging-strike rate has jumped from 7.8 to 12.7. And he's done all this with an improved walk rate, trimming that number down to 1.91.
I'm glad the next Shuffle Up for pitchers isn't today, because there's no right answer for Dickey. No one has a sound projection to offer (and a lot of fantasy analysts are flat-out ducking the question). And in roto negotiations there's just as much uncertainty. It's hard for anyone to trade for Dickey, because they have to say "nobody's this good." And yet the guy who owns Dickey probably shrugs his shoulders and says "what if he is?"
I don't own Dickey on any of my teams this year, a mild frustration. I'm still enjoying the story, but it would be nice to have a stake in it. I did kick the tires on him for one early turn, the only start that's been a mess in 2012 (eight runs against the Braves). It was a rainy and cold day in Atlanta that afternoon; remember, bad weather is the enemy of the knuckleballer.
If I did have Dickey on roster, I'd certainly entertain the idea of selling now; it's just about impossible for anyone to keep up this sort of run, and we have to be concerned about floor, especially given the erratic nature of the pitch. In the comments, I'd like to hear from the Dickey owners in the crowd. Would you move him for a C.J. Wilson type, or just laugh it off? Is Jered Weaver or Cliff Lee enough? Madison Bumgarner? Cole Hamels, CC Sabathia? Where's the tipping point? How high is the sky?
In times like these, I usually come back to the wise words of stock guru Lou Mannheim. "Kid, you're on a roll. Enjoy it while it lasts, 'cause it never does." Let's further discuss this buy/sell/hold theme in the comments.
• Dickey's latest gem cast a shadow on Ike Davis, who provided most of the offense for the Mets (grand slam, along with a walk). Davis is on a tasty 12-for-26 run with two homers and two doubles over his last nine games, and just as importantly, he's collected seven walks against just five strikeouts. This has the look of a talented player who's finally ready to get in gear, be it for physical or mental reasons. Davis is still unowned in 61 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Let's get to work on that.
• There's not much Brandon Beachy owners can do today except curse their poor luck. Beachy has been diagnosed with a partially torn UCL, and he's set to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. You know what that usually means. The best-case scenario appears to be a lengthy rehab and maybe a late-season return, but the likeliest outcome is surgery. You probably shouldn't cut Beachy until the Andrews meeting happens on Wednesday, but with storm clouds approaching, get out your umbrellas.
If you're shopping for a new starting pitcher, here are some widely-available names that might help you: Scott Diamond (41 percent, gets the Pirates on Tuesday), Phil Hughes (37 percent, been terrific of late), Jonathon Niese (36 percent, screened by Santana and Dickey), and Jarrod Parker (31 percent, love him at home). If you need to dig deeper, consider Mike Leake (eight percent, strikeout spike of late), Nathan Eovaldi (seven percent, Ted Lilly news is nebulous) and Jose Quintana (seven percent, so far so good).
• Mat Latos has been a hot mess for much of 2012, but don't blame it on his new ballpark. He's actually been passable in Cincinnati (3.91 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) over eight turns; the big problems are coming on the road (7.45 ERA, 1.76 WHIP). The host Indians threw seven runs (and three homers) at Latos on Monday.
The biggest overall problem for Latos has been keeping the ball in the park (16.3 HR/FB). His strikeout and walk rates have shifted against him slightly, but not worrisome changes. His BABIP stands at .300. His fastball velocity (92.8) is the same as last year, though down from the 94.2 we saw in 2009. The Estimation Police is willing to back Latos up, to a point: SIERA calls for a 3.81 ERA, FIP says 4.96 and Robin Williams xFIP suggests 4.11.
I'm glad I don't own Latos and even if I were presented with a buy-low right now, I'd pass. He doesn't conquer the eye test for me: this seems like a stubborn pitcher who does a lot of little things that get him beat. Do you take comfort in the secondary stats? How are you playing this story? Latos is at home against Minnesota on Sunday, for those that dare.
Speed Round: Bryan LaHair was in right field for the Cubs on Monday, as they get the deck ready for Anthony Rizzo's imminent call-up. The Rizz has 23 homers at Triple-A and a monstrous .364/.426/.745 slash line. … Evan Longoria had a setback with his hamstring Monday and left his rehab game at Triple-A Durham. This underscores why I tend to be very measured when I consider the rehab timetables of players with significant injuries. It's so easy to overrate tomorrow; sometimes we underrate today. … So much for Ryan Dempster's bagel parade; he apparently has a lat strain and hit the disabled list. Context clues suggest it's not a major injury, but until Dempster is back on the mound, all trade talks are off. … There's a chance Roy Oswalt could make his Texas debut this weekend, at home against Colorado. I want to see a turn or two before I consider him a streaming option. … Mark Prior hasn't seen the big leagues for six years but that might change soon. He's pitched eight innings for Triple-A Pawtucket and they've been outstanding: 4 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 19 K. Maybe the 31-year-old righty can help the Red Sox as a reliever. … Jered Weaver (back) is set to go Wednesday against the Giants, though he'll be capped at 80-90 pitches. The Angels decided Weaver could return from the DL without a rehab assignment. … If you were ambushed by Brett Myers on Monday night (eight singles, five runs, just two outs recorded), take heart: he's got a strong hold on Houston's closing gig, and maybe this outing will hurt his trade value. Fantasy owners want Myers to stick with the Astros — he'd be unlikely to close anywhere else. I blame rustiness for the performance, as Myers hardly pitched on Houston's disappointing road trip.