R.A. Dickey has been baseball's first-half story. It's a shame that National League All-Star manager Tony La Russa missed out on the league's bestseller.
The future Hall of Fame manager's decision to start Giants' Matt Cain in Tuesday's All-Star Game is not about the right-hander being undeserving. It's about Dickey being better. It's about recognizing Dickey's "rags to riches story," and at age-37 him being the most dominating pitcher of the first half. And rewarding him for it.
Some may say the All-Star game starting nod is overrated. Just getting selected, they say, is all that matters. But starting the game, especially when you've resurrected yourself the way Dickey has in never-before-seen ways, is special. It's an honor to a man that was drafted in the first round, then diagnosed to have no ulnar collateral ligament, endured the minors-to-majors roller-coaster with multiple teams then made a career for himself after scrapping the typical pitching style and becoming a knuckleballer.
Sure, they say "it counts." Fans still vote, so this game is still about us. There's nothing better than showcasing a unique pitcher who has captivated the baseball world. And one who very well may not replicate this performance ever again in his life, let alone make another All-Star Game.
Dickey has become an ace with a pitch nobody has confused with a dominating one. The right-hander has thrown 120 innings (one-third less than Cain), given up 86 hits (91 for Cain) and has the fourth-best ERA in the NL at 2.40 (Cain has a 2.61 mark) and a 0.93 WHIP (compared to Cain's 0.96). Dickey has mastered the knuckleball like no other, striking out 123 (Cain has 118) and walking just 26 (Cain has 24). Wins are a meaningless stat by which to define a player, but he also is tied for the NL lead with 12 and has 14 quality starts out of 17 outings. Cain has nine wins and 12 quality starts. The right-hander holds the fifth-highest Wins Above Replacement for pitchers at 3.2, and he's second in the NL behind an All-Star snub, Zack Greinke. Cain has a 2.7 mark, certainly excellent, but a tic below Dickey's.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Cain's perfect game. But Dickey had a tremendous stretch of his own. What about Dickey's run of five straight starts without a giving up an earned run -- a span in which he allowed 16 hits and had three complete games. Or six in a row with one run or fewer allowed? Or in eight starts, six earned runs? Cain's perfecto was historical, but Dickey also found himself in Mets' record books for his 42 2/3-inning scoreless streak.
Part of La Russa's reasoning was the the familiarity between Cain and teammate/catcher Buster Posey. If this game is about "winning," then there's nothing that makes more sense for a pitcher than to have his personal catcher, La Russa intimated in his remarks to the press. It may be hard for Posey to adapt to Dickey's fluttering pitch. Letting Carlos Ruiz, who has faced Dickey before, warm up with Dickey in the bullpen and then enter together would be the best plan of attack, according to La Russa.
Little did the manager mention that it's not like Dickey will be pitching the entire game and the small-sample size situation exists. He's also been a strike-thrower, in total command of his knuckleball variations. The difficulties of catching the pitch can be masked -- and yes it can be highlighted -- in short stints. And who is to say just because Posey isn't used to it, he couldn't catch it just as well as Ruiz can?
Leave it to Dickey to explain it himself:
"That's part of what's been over-thought, maybe,'' he said, according to the NY Daily News. "You're talking about the best baseball players in the world, and to say that someone's got a pitcher that's too nasty for them to catch it, that doesn't make sense.
"If a guy at this level gets 20 to 30 throws with me, he'll be fine. I've had one wild pitch all year. I've walked 26 guys. It's not like people are running back to the backstop every two seconds. If that's the reason, I think it's a poor reason.''
There's little worry that Dickey won't get his place in the All-Star Game limelight Tuesday night. It's just a shame that La Russa buried the lede.