2017 Atlanta Braves Season Preview: Right-Handed Starting Pitcher R.A. Dickey

Feb 27, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (19) throws a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (19) throws a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2016 Atlanta Braves rotation was painfully young. That changes with R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon around–but does it change for the better?

Last season’s Atlanta Braves rotation was one of baseball’s most youthful, with 125 starts coming from pitchers age-25 or younger.

With Jaime’ Garcia, Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey currently comprising three-fifths of the Braves rotation look for that to change considerably in 2017. Garcia is closer to his prime, Colon is the Most GIFable Man In Baseball, but a Dickey at full strength, dancing his knuckler all over the plate, could lift the Braves to a place many don’t expect them to occupy this season: contention.

2016 In Review

The bad news up front: Dickey wasn’t particularly good for Toronto last season. Across the board, his numbers dipped—4.46 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 1.367 WHIP—to lows not seen since Dickey became a full-time rotational piece in 2010.

His line-drive percentage (21.9) and home run-to-fly ball ratio (14.7) were career-highs over a full season, and while the Rogers Centre certainly was an outright hitters haven, Turner Field usually favored batters at least slightly as well—and John Schuerholz thinks Sun Trust Park will compare favorably to the Theodore in terms of hitter fairness.

In better news, opponents started the season hitting .353 on balls in play, a number that dipped in the middle of the year before ballooning to .406 in September—during which time Dickey’s role was drastically reduced as Toronto chased a playoff spot. Wait, that’s not better at all.

Reports had Dickey mulling retirement before the Atlanta Braves came calling in the offseason.

2017 Steamer Projections

If nothing went particularly well for Dickey last season, at least projections have him taking a slight bump up across the board this season. The move back into the NL slates him for a 7.25 K/9 ratio—best since his Cy Young season with the Mets—and he projects to improve his BB/9, ERA, FIP and xFIP as well.

And if you’ve got a projection model that can accurately deduce a knuckleballer, God bless you.

That’s the beauty of Dickey, or anyone who has even remotely mastered the fickle science of the flutterball. These projections don’t amount to anything.

He could find the magic touch that he had in 2012 once again. He could get beat around for two months, decide he’s overstayed his welcome and retire. He could provide the much-needed veteran savvy he was brought in to provide and eat up 200 innings, inflating his ERA but saving the bullpen.

The advantage he’s always toted over modern knuckleball contemporaries like Tim Wakefield and Steve Sparks is his velocity—a mid-70s knuckler is tougher to handle than the mid-to-high-60s speed that Wakefield and Sparks brought to the pitch.

I don’t know. You don’t know. No one knows. Gotta admit, I am excited for the R.A. Dickey Experience for this reason. The great unknown is great.

More from Braves News

What Could Go Wrong?

Everything. He’s a knuckleballer. If the dancer suddenly stops dancing, Dickey possesses a mid-80s fastball annnnnnnd that’s just about it.

What Could Go Right?

Everything. He’s a knuckleballer. He could dance that bad boy around for another season of Cy Young contention and if that happens it is GAME ON.

The phrase ’42-year old pitcher’ rarely conjures up images of a man thriving. Middle age is not kind to arms, as Tommy John becomes ever-more-prevalent, as the next generation of flame throwers throw harder, the next big slider has more break, the next hard sinker touches 92 mph. Sport being a young man’s game, 42 is usually the wrong side of the median between ‘wily veteran’ and ‘just about washed up.’


If there’s anyone in baseball you could point to as ‘Most Likely to Defy Father Time’ (outside of Bartolo, who will pitch until he’s 61 to varying levels of effectiveness), it’s Dickey. What the knuckleball lacks in speed, it makes up for in cunning. What Dickey lacks in youth he makes up for in knowledge.

And knowledge Dickey has in spades. He’s one of baseball’s most interesting, insightful ballplayers—not many have climbed Kilimanjaro, written a book, operated a ministerial medical supply nonprofit or named a bat after a sword found in The Hobbit.

He knows his role—eat some innings, tutor the next generation, wear some big numbers on days Atlanta can’t afford to go deep into the bullpen.

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If I were a betting man, I would wager a combination of factors—leaving the AL, particularly the punishing AL East, will be good for him, as will leaving the Rogers Centre for anything that’s not Coors Field—lead to a vintage Wakefield season: double-digit wins, an ERA in the low-4.00 range, a low K-rate and a reduced HR/FB rate. And the Braves will be delighted to have that performance.