So according to the MetsBlog, Terry Collins is once again considering using R.A. Dickey on short rest. This rumor has been floating about for the last two months, and I think it’s finally worth addressing. Because it’s R.A. Dickey. And who doesn’t want to talk about R.A. Dickey? So let’s break the argument down into its component parts.
The case for using R.A. Dickey on short rest:
By ERA and ERA+, Dickey is eighth-best starting pitcher in the National League this season. The Mets could, over the course of a full season, squeeze another eight starts and 45-55 innings out of Dickey by pitching him every fourth day. Those eight starts and 45-55 innings would no longer be thrown by Miguel Batista-type pitchers, and instead would be thrown by one of the league’s best starting pitchers. Getting another eight starts out of Dickey would be equal to the advantage gained from trading for an ace pitcher at the deadline: Either way, it’s another eight starts by an ace. Teams trade top prospects for eight starts down the stretch from CC Sabathia or Zack Greinke. The Mets could get those extra eight starts from Dickey for no prospects and no extra money.
The case against:
The advantage isn’t huge, and the risk outweighs the advantage anyway. If Dickey takes 45-55 innings away from a pitcher who would post a 4.50-5.00 ERA, and Dickey posts a 3.00 ERA in those innings, Dickey’s work saves the Mets 5-10 runs over a Miguel Batista-type. That’s it. It’s one game in the standings, maybe, at the risk of piling another 45-55 innings onto the 38-year-old arm of your best pitcher. And he’ll be on short-rest the entire time. Dickey already gives the Mets 200 innings per season, more than most pitchers. The benefits of pushing him don’t outweigh the meager benefits.
What the Mets should do:
I don’t know if the risk to Dickey’s arm over a full season is worth it, but I’m also not against experimenting here because the Mets could get an extra eight starts from a great pitcher. Here’s my possibly-bad idea for what to do with Dickey: The Mets should let Dickey pitch on three-days rest for a month — say, this August — monitoring him closely throughout. First sign of trouble, shut him down for a week (or the season) and then put him back on regular rest. But otherwise give it a month. At the end, the Mets will have a better idea how to manage a rotation with one pitcher working every three days and the others working every four or so, and Dickey will know how his arm feels working on regular three-days rest. If the Mets and Dickey feel good about the experiment’s results, Dickey pitches every four days in 2013 and the Mets get their extra starts.
But if the experiment fails, there’s another, possibly safer way to squeeze more out of Dickey: Stick him in the bullpen on his throw day between starts. Terry Collins already does this on occasion, but I’m in favor of this becoming the regular thing. The Mets may only be able to get 15 innings out of Dickey this way, but they can make those 15 innings count. Pitch Dickey in the eighth and ninth innings in close games, let him protect one run leads, etc. If the Mets leverage Dickey’s use correctly, they could make those 15 extra innings in relief count as much as 20-30 extra innings in the rotation, without significantly altering their best pitcher’s routine.
Using Dickey out of the bullpen could also let the Mets carry six relievers for stretches of time, giving them the flexibility to carry six bench players. That has value, or at least makes it easier for the Mets to sit comfortably on wobbly benches that require even weight distribution or otherwise tip over like a see-saw.
Dickey is the Mets’ best pitcher and, dollars and contracts included, probably their most valuable piece. They shouldn’t mess that up. But there is value in experimenting cautiously to see if they can squeeze any more value out of Dickey, be it by pitching him every four days or using him out of the bullpen more often. If the Mets can find extra value in the team and players they already have, that’s a leg up on everyone else.
Also we’d get to see R.A. Dickey pitch more. Why is anyone against this idea?