Robert Allen Dickey won the 2012 NL Cy Young award in a landslide, winning 27 of 32 first place votes. While Dickey may have been the favorite, the margin of victory was indeed a surprise. Dickey had a year that was outstanding by any measure, but when considering his journey to this particular mountaintop, it is indeed one of the more remarkable stories in baseball in recent years.
Dickey attended the University of Tennessee, and was an Academic All-American as well as a star pitcher. When his major league career did not progress as hoped, he began to work to transition his unique forkball into a knuckler. This took years, but after being picked up by Omar Minaya before the 2010 season, in one of Minaya’s best and most cost-effective moves, Dickey began to finally show the ability to be a serious major league starter. Once he was promoted after an excellent start in Buffalo, he turned in a fine season for the Mets. His 2011 overall stats were very similar, but some bad luck–and poor support–led him to an 8-13 record. 2012 was to be his breakout season.
From the beginning, Dickey showed increasing mastery of his unique knuckler, which most say he throws harder than previous knuckleball pitchers. Aside from one off day in Atlanta, Dickey did not allow more than 3 earned runs in another of his first 14 starts, which included an incredible 2 consecutive 1-hitters, both complete games, with a total of 2 BB and 25Ks. Like the rest of the team, Dickey’s second half was not quite as good as his first half, but he was still very good, and did not suffer from the precipitous decline of offensive leader David Wright or the team as a whole.
He finished 20-6, with a 2.73 ERA, and an excellent 1.053 WHIP, and led the NL in complete games (5), shutouts (3), starts (33), innings pitched (233.2), and strikeouts (230).
A Cy Young-caliber season anytime one is not competing with, say, a 1968 Bob Gibson, a 1978 Ron Guidry, or a 1985 Doc Gooden.
Dickey gave a downtrodden, 4th place-entrenched Met team with a shrunken budget and an annual addiction to 2nd half collapses their best individual season in years, and yesterday’s announcement gave them their finest moment since perhaps the 2006 team’s achievements.
So what now?
Dickey is, by all accounts, a fine person as well as an excellent pitcher. A family man, a religious man, a charitable man, a successful author–as close to a combination of Renaissance Man and Working Class Hero as can probably be found in American pro sports today. Over the next few years, due to a combination of financial issues as well as the team’s best young players being pitchers, the starting rotation is going to consist of a group of pitchers all over a decade younger than Dickey. Hopefully, by the end of 2013, the rotation will be Dickey/Harvey/Niese/Wheeler/Gee. This group has the potential to be something very special, with its mix of styles and strengths, and who could be a better mentor for this group than Dickey?
Yes, Dickey just turned 38, and there is a lot of mileage on his arm; no doubt. However, many–if not almost all–knuckleball pitchers last longer and have more innings in their arms than conventional pitchers. Yes, some suggest that due to the higher-than-normal velocity with which Dickey throws his knuckler, that he is a special case and may not have that longevity. But this is simply a guess; as he is the first to do this, how can anyone know how long he will continue to be very effective? And let’s face it, he’s not throwing 96 mph knucklers.
Forgetting the team’s finances, and all of its holes around the roster, it seems as though the financial commitment Dickey would probably require is not a huge one. All sources which have weighed in have suggested that something in the realm of 3 years and $30-something million should get it done. If the team is truly considering 6 or 7 years and roughly $115-120 million for Wright, how could a deal like this for Dickey be considered a bad risk?
Yes, Dickey’s value is of course at a high point right now, and his only being currently signed for one year and a relatively paltry $5 million increases that value.
But isn’t a pitcher like this worth enough to keep and to take a bit of a financial risk on?
The point here is that while this writer strongly feels that Wright does not provide either a good risk to perform up to the capabilities that would be expected for the type of deal he is apparently seeking, nor does he seem to provide much in the way of leadership or intangibles, Dickey seems to be a much better bet to continue to play at a high level (albeit maybe not as high as 2012) and he definitely offers more off of the field than Wright does. Dickey is looked up to by seemingly everyone in baseball, for his achievements in the game, his struggle to get to where he is, and the exemplary way in which he conducts himself off of the field.
Sure, age is a factor, but when all things are considered, when it comes to the degree of how much a player should be paid (or overpaid) for what he has already achieved and for the intangibles he provides (in terms of leadership as well as the rare positive feelings for Met fans which come from the Cy Young), Dickey has earned an extension from the Mets.
He also has said how much he loves the area, and wants to be here. How many players with true talent WANT to be Mets right now? His charitable works and his budding career as an author are ideally suited for the New York City area, which gives him a wonderful platform for his endeavors. Maybe Dickey really is as good as he seems–maybe he really does appreciate the organization which gave him the chance to succeed and maybe he will offer the elusive “hometown discount.”
There surely are two excellent sides to this debate, but the feeling here is very strong that the team must re-sign Dickey, if it can be done for no more than 3 years, and not much more than $10 million per year.
He has put together a very good 3-year period, he is a knuckleballer, all indications are that he takes excellent care of himself, players look up to him, and he even fields his position quite well, handles the bat decently, and has been willing to come out of the bullpen on occasion.
He is a very valuable commodity right now, and while that surely makes him very attractive to other teams, the feeling here is that his value is greatest as leader of what can develop into a possibly great starting rotation.
The Mets have a fine man to lead their rotation; one of the few players who has achieved consistently and improved over the last three dismal years. His talent and his attitude would be sorely missed as this team tries to climb out of its Madoff/Wilpon/Minaya hole and crawl back to the realm of the respectable.
Robert Allen Dickey has been the best Met over the last three years, has proved that he can succeed in New York, has shown the world that not every accomplished athlete is self-centered and one-dimensional, he is a leader and a wonderful role model, and he deserves to be paid well to be a Met for another three years beyond 2013.
Let’s hope the team puts aside many recent precedents and does the right thing.