Relief For Mets Is In Sight -- And His Name Is R.A. Dickey

R.A. Dickey as a closer? Why Not?
R.A. Dickey as a closer? Why Not?

Late Saturday afternoon Mets fans got a surprise when Terry Collins brought in R.A. Dickey to pitch the 9th inning. Dickey gave up a home run to Juan Uribe, a .181 hitter. It was irrelevant since the Mets were trailing 6-5 and did not score in their half of the 9th.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting experiment for Collins. No Mets fan needs to be told about the team's biggest flaw. If you watched the last few weeks, you've agonized over losses that could have -- should have -- been victories.

Tuesday night they lost to the Nationals 5-4 in 10 innings when the bullpen failed to hold a one run lead in both the 9th and 10th. On Wednesday they lost 4-3.when the bullpen allowed runs in both the 8th and 9th.

Let's make it simple: the Mets are dead last in the National League in bullpen ERA. If they had just an average set of relievers, they'd probably be just 3-4 games out of first; if they had the Yankees bullpen, they'd probably have the best record in the league.

If they could only find one more solid starter -- 23 year old Matt Harvey, currently with Buffalo, or anybody -- to do a decent job in the rotation, then they might find they already have the best closer in baseball.

Not only the best closer, but the best set-up man, too. And his name is R.A. Dickey.

Occasionally during this season, Howie Rose or Ron Darling, or someone else broadcasting a Mets game has hinted at what a great reliever Dickey would be. What I'm proposing is that he might be even more valuable in the bullpen than in the starting rotation.

Let's start by acknowledging that however flukey Dickey's career is, at this point, he's the real thing. His ERA for the previous two seasons was 2.38 (in 2011) and 2.84 (2010). And that's almost exclusively as a starter.

A lot of baseball people don't like the idea of a knuckleball pitcher coming out of the bullpen - the game is usually close or tied, and knuckleballs are hard to hold on to.
But there are two good responses to that concern. The first is just two words: Hoyt Wilhelm.

Hoyt, the Baron of the Butterfly, had a knuckleball all over the place - his catcher with the Orioles, Gus Triandos, used a mitt that Casey Stengel said was the size of a garbage can lid. Yet Wilhelm was the best relief pitcher in all of baseball for most of the 1950s and into the early 1960s.

The second counter is that Dickey's knuckleball is far easier to control than Wilhelm's or almost anyone else's. His walks-to-innings pitched has been pretty good for the past 3 seasons, and this year he has just 29 walks in 132.1 innings.

Here's another point worth considering. The knuckleball doesn't put a lot of strain on the arm, and Dickey has already shown his ability to pitch 9 innings, as he did when he completed back-to-back one-hitters.

Can you see him pitching perhaps 70-80 times a year out of the bullpen and going 2 and sometimes even 3 innings? I can.

Okay, I know this isn't going to happen this year, if only because Dickey has a chance to win 20 games and no one wants to take that away from him. But he's 37 now, and as he gets older perhaps he would seriously consider the fact that a career in the bullpen could give him many more years in the big leagues - why not into his mid-to-late forties, as other knuckleball pitchers have done?

The Mets are scrappy and resilient and have shown a lot of heart this season. But it's not likely that they're going to win anything. However, when they put the pieces together for next year's team, I can't believe that the idea of converting Dickey into a relief pitcher won't occur to the Mets brass. And to R.A. Dickey, too.

And if the Mets haven't given up on this season: here's another idea: use Dickey as a reliever on this "throw" days, the middle day between his last start and his next start. If Dickey can stay loose on his throw day by tossing 80-100 balls in practice, why not cut the number of pitches and have come in come in to throw, oh, say, 25 knuckleballs in an actual game?

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