It’s official. #HotStoveSeason2016 is officially here. While I was not expecting to be writing about two of my favorite baseball things (knuckleballers and old-timers playing a young man’s game) so soon into the offseason, here we are, as Atlanta jumped on some very, very veteran pitchers to start off their offseason by signing R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon.
We’ll start the discussion with Atlanta’s first signing of the offseason, 42-year old Dickey, who received a one-year, $8 million deal, along with an $8 million option for 2018 with a $500k buyout. If I didn’t make it clear when I wrote about Steven Wright earlier this year, I am fascinated by all knuckleballers and, by extension, Dickey as well. After all, we’re talking about a pitcher who won the Cy Young Award at age 37 in 2012 with the Mets. Although he never had a year like that after he moved to Toronto, he averaged 206 innings pitched, with a 4.05 ERA and a 100 ERA+ over his four years there. That is decidedly not sexy, but it is also basically the textbook definition of a reliable, league-average, back-of-the-rotation starter.
While Dickey’s 2016 (4.46 ERA, 5.03 FIP and 97 ERA+) was his worst season since 2012 and the first since 2011 where he failed to reach 200 innings (although this was due to Toronto limiting his exposure rather than any health issues), there are certainly reasons to imagine that his results will be better in Atlanta. First and most, he’ll get to face pitchers again now that he’s back in the NL. Then there’s the fact that he’ll be be moving from the AL East to the NL East, which means facing less scary offenses overall and less homerun-friendly environments. The last change alone could be huge for Dickey’s ability to rebound in 2017, since his 1.5 HR/9 last season was his highest by far since his age 28 season way back in 2003 when it was also 1.5.
Less than 24 hours after signing Dickey, the Braves made a second rotation move when they signed the 43-year-old Colon to a one-year, $12.5 million deal. While Dickey may have had a down year in 2016, the same cannot be said for Colon (3.43 ERA, 3.99 FIP and 119 ERA+), who made the All-Star team, helped to get the Mets to the Wild Card Game in spite of all of the pitcher health issues they faced and finally hit his first homerun after in his 19 year career. At this rate, as long as he keeps locating his fastball, Colon will be here long after we are all gone and will not throw his last pitch until the sun dies or the earth is swallowed up by the sea.
For the Braves, it’s not exactly news to state that they had some pitching issues last season. By bWAR, the Braves came in 29th in MLB for contributions from their starters with 4.8. That number is especially impressive when you consider that Julio Teheran was responsible for 3.2 bWAR, meaning that the other 15 starters that the Braves fielder were collectively responsible for 1.6 bWAR on the season. Colon put up 2.9 bWAR last year and Dickey put up 1.0, just for reference. Then there’s the fact that they are both reliable innings eaters, despite their age.
The Braves are still firmly in the middle of a rebuild and it’s not as if these moves will change that, nor should they, for that matter. Having reliable innings-eaters available is important for the Braves so that they can work on developing their young pitchers without having to jerk them around the minors and send them up and down, allowing them to develop at an appropriate pace, not encumbered by the need to have warm bodies to take the mound. Then there’s the issue of veteran presence that both Dickey and Colon will provide in the clubhouse. Finally, there’s the fact that, not only will they both likely make the Braves better than they were last year, they are both interesting, fun players to watch and might serve towards getting some fans to brave (pun: intended) the traffic to the new stadium set to open this year.
Grade for Dickey: A
As discussed above, the move from Toronto to Atlanta should benefit Dickey. Knuckleballers are very different pitchers and age very differently from normal pitchers. There’s no way to say with any authority whether or not Dickey will have a better season in Atlanta this year, but all available data suggests that he should.
Grade for Colon: A
Not mentioned above is the fact that Colon has 233 wins in his career, just 10 short of Juan Marichal’s 243. Pitching in Atlanta this year should help him get the starts he needs to surpass Marichal and claim the record for most wins by a Dominican-born pitcher. Assuming that the Mets are blessed with some better health than they were last season (a big assumption, of course), Colon wouldn’t have had that chance in New York, so this is obviously a win for Big Sexy.
(Bonus) Grade for Baseball Fans Everywhere: A
Another year of Colon pitching is unquestionably a good thing, but another year of Colon in the National League where all get to watch him bat? That’s a very, very, very good thing.
Grade for Braves: A
Ultimately both of these signings are exactly the type that the Braves should be making at this juncture, as they try to work they way back towards contention: short contracts for veterans who can reliably eat up innings and give the Braves a chance to work towards productively developing their young pitchers. Sure, these moves aren’t exactly exciting, but that’s exactly what Atlanta needs right now. There were any number of ways to approach their pitching needs this offseason incorrectly or screw something up, but, so far, the Braves look like they are doing this as well as they possibly could.