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Should The Orioles Sign R.A. Dickey?

February 9, 2018
I have always had an infatuation with knuckleball pitchers. Maybe it's because I grew up in Baltimore when former Orioles pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm was baffling hitters (and catchers) every single time I saw him.

For those in this generation, a knuckleball is more accurately a fingertip ball, and if properly thrown, the aerodynamic are such that the ball has no spin. It actually flutters to the mound, making it difficult for the batter to adjust his timing. 

The beauty of the pitch is that even the pitcher and catcher have a hard time predicting where the ball is going to land.

I bring up the knuckleballer -- a rarely seen pitch these days -- because there is a free-agent knuckleballer available who would immediately give the Orioles a chance to win whenever he takes the mound: R.A. Dickey. 

Last season, the 43-year-old Dickey signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves for $7.5 million and had a club option for 2018 with a $500,000 buyout.

Dickey made 31 starts in 2017, recording a 4.26 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 190 innings. Now, those numbers aren't quite on the level of his 2012 Cy Young season with the New York Mets. That year, he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA 1.05 WHIP.

But when compared to previous Orioles starters Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman, Dickey's numbers look pretty darn good in the middle of the Orioles' rotation.

Despite being a knuckleballer, Dickey would actually give the Orioles some predictability.

Yes, he is 43 years old, and throughout his last eight seasons, he has averaged 203 innings. Of more importance to Orioles manager Buck Showalter, though, would be the fact that Dickey threw at least six innings 22 out of the 31 times he took the mound in 2017.

Not to belabor the comparisons to last season's putrid starting pitching, but between Miley, Jimenez and Tillman, the Orioles got a total of 19 out of 77 starts of six innings or longer.

In today's game, you win with a starting rotation that has a track record of stability. Dickey has that, and it should scream "sign me" to Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. Instead, we get crickets.

Further adding to his case, Dickey already has a relationship with Showalter, who Dickey credits with giving him the nudge to fully commit to embracing the knuckleball. 

In case there were concerns that Dickey would be a bad fit in Camden Yards, remember he did spend four seasons in the American League East, starting 130 games for the Toronto Blue Jays. Career-wise, Dickey has pitched eight games games at Camden Yards while recording a 3.27 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 44.1 innings. Dickey only gave up three home runs during that stretch.  

Before the 1992 season, the Orioles signed veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. With the signing, the Orioles got a wily veteran and a smart pitcher, but they also got a leader who helped two young starters -- Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald -- steady their careers.

I can think of two other young starters -- Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman -- who could benefit from someone like Dickey.

With what the Orioles will ultimately throw at pitching from a dollars perspective, there is no good reason not to sign Dickey. Alone, he doesn't change the game. But at this point, is any one starter that the Orioles manage to sign going to do that? What they need to do is to make three smart moves.

Signing R.A. Dickey would be smart move No. 1.