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For Whom Does the Bell Thole?

While I’m not sure we’re looking at a situation that is a total certainty as Jon Heyman seems to think, I do believe the Jays are leaning towards picking up starting pitcher R.A. Dickey‘s 12 million dollar — 11 million in real dollars if you take into account the buy-out — option for 2016.

Heyman throws out the fact the Jays have won Dickey’s last 10 starts (a streak that was unceremoniously snapped by Masahiro Tanaka this past Sunday).  While that’s pretty nice, I don’t subscribe to the theory that Dickey’s strong second half** will be the deciding factor.

**As an aside, looking at Dickey’s year in the cumulative, it’s been pretty ordinary.  In fact, at 1.6 WAR (according to Fangraphs) there’s a good chance, with three starts to go, that he ends up basically where he’s been during his first two seasons in Toronto.  An average starting pitcher.  Hell, Drew Hutchison, who, honestly, I don’t want to see start another game this season is at 1.7 wins. Of course, the entirety of Dickey’s 1.6 wins have been accumulated since July 1st.  So there is something to this second half resurgence.  Looking at the numbers, it’s interesting.

Dickey’s GB/FB ratio has actually gone down. From 1.23 to 1.04, despite a flat ground ball rate.  Not ideal for a guy that gives up a lot of home runs.  What R.A. has done is reduce the amount of hard hit balls allowed, with his line drive % down by close to 5 points and the amount of hard hit balls down 6 points.

Part of this can be explained by the below table:

Pull% Cent% Oppo% HR/FB
1st Half 43.30% 36.80% 19.90% 13.20%
2nd Half 38.30% 34.00% 27.70% 6.80%


I think it was during his last start when Buck was banging on about how it seems Dickey is throwing more strikes earlier in the count.  I’m sure the data is out there to prove/disprove that observation (I just can’t find it) but as he’s reduced his walk rate from 3.45 to 1.76 per nine in the second half, it stands to reason he is throwing more strikes.  And having hitters in the hole, especially with the knuckleball when hitters can’t really ‘sit’ on a particular pitch leads to more emergency hacks, which I think is displayed in the Oppo% above.

He’s generating weaker contact.

Now, after that rather long aside on why Dickey has been better lately, I still believe that if the Jays were given the choice, in a vacuum, they would choose to spend their 11 million bucks elsewhere.  Unfortunately, free agency doesn’t work in a vacuum, and despite what is a pretty rich crop of pitchers on the market this off-season, if you don’t pick up R.A.’s option, you’re effectively turning over 80% of your starting staff.

They’ve traded away all of their internal depth so here’s what we have going into next season:

Stroman, Hutchison, Sanchez, ?, ?

I’m not going to talk about re-signing David Price.  I’d love it if the Jays do, I’m guessing there are 29 other teams that would love it too.  I also don’t think they pay what Estrada will command (and nor should they) and Mark Buerhrle’s time in Toronto — unless he accepts a QO, which, I suppose, is possible — is done.

Now, with his stuff and repertoire, Roberto Osuna should start.  He’s made noises that he’d like to stay in the bullpen but I think an off-season of his agent whispering sweet salary nothings in his ear changes that tune.

So add Osuna’s name to the list, which leaves one question mark.  Or does it?  Hey, I’d love it if the Jays 2016 success was on the back of a 4-headed monster of 26 year old and under, home grown (if that matters for anything) hurlers.  But this is baseball.  And things rarely work out how you like.

Hutchison will be coming off a season where he regressed pretty severely and finished in the bullpen, Sanchez’ highest inning total for a season is just over 100 and Osuna has never started a game above A ball — depending on how you rank the Mexican League!

In reality, Marcus Stroman is the only non-question mark and he’s coming off major knee surgery.

The Jays will need to spend some money this off-season and with salaries like Buerhrle’s and Ricky Romero coming off the books, there will be money.  There probably isn’t enough to go out and sign the two or three arms needed to insulate themselves against the volatility inherent in younger, inexperienced starters though.

The Jays will look at all their options and realize that Dickey is a known commodity at a reasonable price.  He may not be their first choice, but he comes at a guaranteed cost and doesn’t have much of a choice.  I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t back.

So, after 785 words making an argument for something that most probably take for granted we get to what I really wanted to talk about.  How does Dickey returning affect the catcher position?

With Dioner Navarro an impending free agent and a farm system, that was once the envy of many, now barren of catching depth, the Jays will have Russell Martin and an arb eligible Josh Thole on the books.

While I think Toronto may take a run at re-signing Navarro I don’t want to speculate and really don’t know what they or Dioner are thinking.  We do know this.  Three catchers on a 25 man roster doesn’t work.  And Martin will be 33 heading into next season and he’s been pretty banged up over the last few months.

He’ll probably end up catching somewhere in the neighbourhood of 110 games this year.  A total that he, at his age and value to the team, shouldn’t really better in 2016.  So, if Dickey is back, do the Jays use the savings from Navarro elsewhere and let Josh Thole run with the back up job?  Catching, not only Dickey’s 35 starts but another 20 odd elsewhere?  A guy who’s best offensive season was over 73 games with the Mets in 2010 when he was worth one run??!

Since then he’s been a negative offensive player, which, added to his defence make him a sub-replacement level in terms of WAR.  Now, I don’t discount his ability to catch a knuckleball, but I don’t think that, even if you could quantify it, it would make much difference to his overall value as a player.

He’s here to do one thing, something he does pretty well, but let’s be honest, in every other facet of the game he’s not a major leaguer.

But by signing R.A. Dickey, there is a very good chance that decision comes with an added price.  A black hole in the backup catcher role.

Many will argue that the Jays offence can carry a part-time player who provides no value with the bat but think about this. What if Martin were to miss any time due to injury.  And Josh Thole was your starting catcher?

I think I was just a bit sick in my mouth.

I don’t know what the answer is here but the Jays are going to have to come up with another option. Even if it means biting the bullet and paying Dickey to walk.

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