Evaluating the R.A. Dickey Trade
As Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star wrote on Monday, the Blue Jays reached an extension with R.A. Dickey that is reportedly worth $25 million for 2 years with a team option for $12 million in 2016. The extension was the final piece of the puzzle and it completed the Jays/Mets trade that was reportedly agreed upon in principle days before. In total the Blue Jays traded away Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, John Buck, and Wuilmer Becerra to the New York Mets for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and Mike Nickeas.
Prior to the trade, d’Arnaud and Syndergaard were the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects in the Blue Jays farm system. In return the Jays are getting R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, but a pitcher without a long track record of elite success. FanGraphs defines elite or ‘All Star level’ as a player with between 4 and 5 wins above replacement in a single season. Solely using fWAR, Dickey would qualify for just one all star level season in his career (2012), but if you look to RA9-Wins as Dave Cameron exclaimed yesterday, it opines that Dickey has had 2 seasons worth 4+ wins above replacement (2010, 2012) coming to a total of 14.8 wins over the last three years. Only six other pitchers in baseball have had higher fWAR totals in that same time period.
The reason for the difference in value is that RA9-Wins uses runs allowed as opposed to FIP for the calculation of WAR. In the calculation of WAR, FIP is adjusted to a normalized BABIP, but runs allowed keeps the BABIP as is. This means that in calculating Dickey’s WAR, the FIP version severely undervalues him because Dickey consistently produces lower BABIPs than what would otherwise be expected.
As Dave Cameron described
You shouldn’t just use RA9-wins for any pitcher who outperforms his FIP, as often times, that’s simply the product of good teammates or some good luck, but you should also know that FIP doesn’t work for every pitcher…Knuckleball pitchers induce weak contact that leads to consistently lower than average rates of hits on balls in play
While this may be a better way of valuing R.A. Dickey, this comparison in a way represents the sense of unknown that we still have with knuckleball pitchers. Perhaps with Dickey, the unknown is even further amplified as last season he did things that only a few knuckleball pitchers ever have and at velocities that no knuckleballers have ever reached.
With all that in mind, going forward R.A. Dickey is an interesting projection case. In his most recent article ($) Dan Szymborski showed off the ZiPS projections for the newest Jay, which valued Dickey as a 4 WAR pitcher in 2013 and a 10.6 WAR pitcher over the next three years.
Is that enough to push the Blue Jays over the top in 2013? Maybe…?
As it stands ZiPS projects the Blue Jays to win 93 games in 2013, which also projects to be the top win total in the American League East.
Even then giving up the two top prospects in any farm system, yet alone one that previously ranked among the top in the league, for a pitcher who still has questions about his value doesn’t always end too favourably. In the aftermath of the trade some have pointed to the fact that the Jays are legitimate contenders for a playoff spot and every additional win is worth more. While that may be true, I’m not a big fan of using it as justification for a single trade because it assumes that there is no other way to achieve additional wins. In this case I find it hard to believe that R.A. Dickey was the only option and that giving up two elite prospects was all that could be done to improve the team. Perhaps I’m wrong…perhaps certain free agents didn’t want to sign in Toronto, perhaps Dickey was the only trade option, perhaps the Jays have maxed out their budget. There is a lot of variables in the trade that as outsiders, we aren’t privy to.
With that said, regardless of my opinion on the trade, R.A. Dickey is one of the most exciting pitchers to watch in the MLB, he makes the team better in 2013, and he’s an all around great person. I’m overjoyed (as any fan should be) to have Dickey on the Jays, but still apprehensive about what the cost ended up being. Nonetheless, Dickey the best.