The Culmination of the R.A. Dickey Experiment

The scientific method begins by asking a question. Ask a question, do some research, and form a hypothesis. Once you’ve got your hypothesis, it’s time to do a little testing. Or, to employ a more lively word, experimenting. Once the test, ahem, experiment is underway, data is collected and analyzed, leading to new questions, new hypotheses and new experiments.

Over in Toronto, a season’s worth of question-asking, researching, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, refining and retesting has been taking place, slowly building up to a grand experiment that will take place on the national stage when the Blue Jays have no room left for error with everything on the line. More likely than not, the experiment will go over just fine and Toronto’s hypothesis will be confirmed. Even if the experiment doesn’t go over fine, the hypothesis could hold water. There still exists the chance, though, that the test tubes suddenly begin to boil over, sending the experiment awry and the laboratory into a frenzy with no time left for reevaluating and retesting.

The Hypothesis:

We can live with letting Russell Martin catch R.A. Dickey

During the first two years of R.A. Dickey’s tenure in Toronto, he had a safety net. The same safety net he’d used since his career revival with the Mets in 2010. That safety net, personified, exists in human catcher Josh Thole, and that safety net prevailed likely out of necessity, rather than comfort, as Thole is the owner of a particular skill possessed by few, if any, of his peers. Thole can catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball.

This offseason, though, the Blue Jays acquired Russell Martin. The extent of Martin’s abilities behind the plate never quite reached the invincible, deified status of a Yadier Molina, but Martin comes with a certain reputation for his defense. That reputation led the Blue Jays to ask their initial question: can Martin catch Dickey’s knuckleball? In spring training, they began gathering the background research for an eventual hypothesis.

You might remember that this is something I wrote about back in April. Martin dedicated himself to the craft, putting in extra time with Dickey, asking questions and making adjustments until, by the end of spring training, the Blue Jays felt comfortable enough to let someone other than Jose Thole catch Dickey’s knuckler on a regular basis for the first time in six years.

Enough research was gathered to support a hypothesis, and, come Opening Day, the testing officially began. Fast forward six months, and a regular season’s worth of data has collected. Let’s turn to BaseballProspectus’ advanced catching metrics to see how Martin fared. What follows is the bottom five, out of 109 catchers, in blocking runs above average:

Blocking Runs Below Average
Rank Name BL_RUNS
105. A.J. Pierzynski -6.7
106. Tyler Flowers -7.9
107. Francisco Cervelli -8.3
108. Blake Swihart -11.5
109. Russell Martin -16.2
SOURCE: BaseballProspectus.com

You may immediately notice the same thing as myself. The only two catchers who regularly caught knuckleballs this season rank last and second-to-last. Anyone who regularly catches a knuckleball, even Josh Thole, is going to allow more passed balls and wild pitches than the average catcher, so it’s not exatly fair to grade them all on the same scale. To rectify this issue, I enlisted the help of BP’s Jonathan Judge, who kindly provided me with the blocking leaderboard, sans knuckleball. The bottom two names on that leaderboard are… still Swihart and Martin.

Martin, it seems, has struggled to block pitches, overall, this year. He’s especially struggled in adapting to catching Dickey’s knuckler. Thole, for his career, has averaged around 11 passed balls per 32 starts while catching Dickey. All other catchers, each of which had been eventually deemed unfit to handle Dickey’s knuckler, averaged 22 passed balls per 32 starts. Martin, this year, averaged 20 passed balls per 32 Dickey starts. So, no noticeable improvement over those who had failed before him.

The Blue Jays believed catching the knuckler was beginning to wear on Martin, both physically and mentally. Down the stretch, it reached a point where Martin was given a reprieve from catching Dickey, with Thole handling six of Dickey’s last seven starts. Thole isn’t on the postseason roster, though, so when Martin catches Dickey in this afternoon’s ALDS Game 4, it will be just his second time doing so, in-game, in nearly two months.

In the postseason, every pitch is magnified, so, of course, this is something worth keeping an eye on. Just based on the averages, the odds are that there won’t even be a passed ball. Even if there is a passed, it might be harmless. Or, it might not.

Back on July 29, the Blue Jays were playing the Phillies. Dickey was doing the pitching and Martin, the catching. With one out and a man on first, the following occurred:

Dickey1

Martin was crossed up by the knuckler, and the runner advanced to second. Two pitches later, Dickey recorded a strikeout, and Martin wasn’t able to handle that one, either:

Dickey2

Because R.A. Dickey threw a knuckleball and Martin had a hard time with it, a runner moved up a base. Because Dickey threw another knuckleball and Martin had another hard time with it, the runner scored.

Roughly a month prior to that game, a similar sequence occurred. Martin had trouble with a Dickey knuckler…

Dickey4_June23

…and on the very next pitch, it cost them:

Dickey4.1_June23

At the time, mistakes like these can be brushed off. They’re to be expected, to an extent, with Dickey on the mound and a non-Thole catcher behind the dish. Now, imagine what you just saw happening in a postseason game. Since this is a hypothetical, let’s say the score was tied and it’s the seventh inning! Situations that seem harmless in June or July become a nightmare in October.

Granted, even Thole isn’t perfect, and so this is a risk inherent in any Dickey start, regardless of who’s doing the work behind the plate. But in this instance, with Martin behind the plate, the risk is elevated. With Martin, sometimes a pitch that costs the Blue Jays a run…

Dickey5_June7

…is one that Thole might have handled with ease:

Thole2

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Thole should be the one catching this game. The idea of burning a postseason roster spot to carry a third catcher for the sole purpose of catching a knuckleball is preposterous. Martin undertook this task in the spring, and all season long, his work has been leading up to this moment.

Besides, it’s doubtful this ends up playing a major role, if any, in the outcome of the game. In all likelihood, the game will be decided by something much larger than whether Russell Martin was able to handle that knuckleball in the dirt. But with every pitch Dickey throws for the remainder of this postseason, it’s impossible to resist that curious thought that exists while watching any experiment that’s still in progress: “What happens if this all goes terribly wrong?”

We hoped you liked reading The Culmination of the R.A. Dickey Experiment by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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David
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David

If I were a Jays fan, I would probably be crapping my pants a little on each pitch.

Shingo's Cheeseburgers
Member
Shingo's Cheeseburgers

Too much poutine?

Youppi
Guest
Youppi

This is more of an Expo problem. In Toronto, gastrointestinal malaise can be attributed to Hamilton.

Mike
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Mike

awesome Can-con

PK Subban
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PK Subban

All this ‘poutine’ talk, whether it be here or by low-IQ ESPN announcers, or wherever I’ve seen it repeated the past few days is at best, misplaced, and at worst, quite ignorant.

Poutine is a big thing in Montreal. The rest of Canada, not so much. Montreal is not near Toronto. It is in another province altogether, and would take many hours to drive to. One speaks English, one speaks French. One eats poutine, one does not. The two places are as different from each other as two countries, yet for some reason in various Bluejay puns in the media, poutine is casually thrown into the greater dialogue quite commonly, which is odd to me, considering I’ve never had poutine in Toronto. However, there is a fantastically diverse selection of fine restaurants to go to, in what is arguably the cleanest and safest downtown of any major city in North America. Probably some of these places may have poutine on the menu, but it’s definitely not a Toronto thing. It’s a Montreal thing.

P.S. Bring the Expos back!

ducks
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ducks

I’d like to not disagree with you because I am an American Jays fan who has never set foot in Canada so how could I know your cuisine. But! There was a whole summer where I had to endure endless ads while listening to Blue Jays games for ‘Poutineapalooza’ and it drove me nuts.

ducks
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ducks

Just want to add I just heard an ad during the game for getting free poutine after signing up for a poutine club

Pour nos amis francophones (sauter serbe et vietnamien)
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Pour nos amis francophones (sauter serbe et vietnamien)

Tout ce discours «poutine», que ce soit ici ou en faible QI annonceurs ESPN, ou là où je l’ai vu répété ces derniers jours est, au mieux, mal placée, et au pire, tout à fait ignorants.

Poutine est une grande chose à Montréal. Le reste du Canada, pas tellement. Montréal est pas près de Toronto. Il est tout à fait dans une autre province, et prendrait plusieurs heures pour aller en voiture. On parle anglais, on parle français. On mange de la poutine, on n’a pas. Les deux endroits sont aussi différents les uns des autres en tant que deux pays, mais pour une raison dans divers jeux de mots Bluejay dans les médias, la poutine est négligemment jetés dans le grand dialogue assez fréquemment, ce qui est étrange pour moi, vu que je ne l’ai jamais eu poutine Toronto. Cependant, il ya une sélection incroyablement diversifié de bons restaurants où aller, dans ce qui est sans doute le centre-ville plus propre et la plus sûre de toutes les grandes villes en Amérique du Nord. Probablement certains de ces endroits peuvent avoir poutine sur le menu, mais il est certainement pas une chose de Toronto. Il est une chose Montréal.

Post-scriptum Apportez les Expos de retour!

De la Sibérie au Vietnam à l'anglais et le dos
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De la Sibérie au Vietnam à l'anglais et le dos

Parler de l’ensemble « Poutine », ou ici, ou à de faibles niveaux d’ESPN IK, orientation ou où j’ai vu beaucoup de fois dans les deux derniers jours, au mieux, mal placé et pire, ignorant.

Poutine est la grande chose à Montréal. Le reste du Canada, pas trop. Montréal est situé près de Toronto. Toutes les autres provinces, et il y a plusieurs heures de suite en voiture. Anglophone et francophone. Manger la Poutine, n’est pas. Deux sites différents de chaque autre lorsque les deux pays, mais pour une raison quelconque dans de nombreux jeux sur et dans les médias, Poutine est involontairement jeté dans le Super souvent, ce qui est étrange pour moi, parce que j’étais son Toronto est Poutine. Toutefois, il est d’un diversité incroyable choix de restaurants, une place dans ce qui est probablement le najiistija du centre ville et le plus sécurisé dans toutes les grandes villes en Amérique du Nord. Peut-être certains de ces lieux peuvent être Poutine sur le menu, mais il n’est pas une chose à Toronto. C’est une question de Montréal.

Post-scriptum au dos de l’izlocbama !

Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
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Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

Comments about “Putin” or here or low levels of ESPN IK, investments or where I see a lot of time in the last two days, at best, poorly formed, jump.

Putin is the big thing in Montreal. The rest of Canada, not too much. Montreal is located near Toronto. All of the province, and there are several hours away by car. Anglofonskom and Francophone. Putin is not eating. Two slots on each other, when the two countries, but for some reason in most games and media, Putin unknowingly thrown into the supernatural, which is weird for me, because I was m. Toronto is Putin. However, it is the variety of different restaurants, where najiistija Center and safest in all major cities in North America. Some places can Putin on the menu, but it is not a thing in Toronto. It’s a question of Montreal.

A PostScript on the back of the izlocbama …

free-range turducken
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free-range turducken

“Putin unknowingly thrown into the supernatural”. Of course, he wasn’t eating!! ROFLMAO