Many people will tell you that throwing a knuckleball isn’t as strenuous for the pitcher as a curveball or a slider. That is true to a point, but there are a lot more variables here than that. The equation isn’t simply “knuckleball = no elbow trouble”, and Dickey’s average velocity on his knuckleball is this season, 13 mph faster than Tim Wakefield’s career average. While Wake through his knuckler about 64 mph Dickey’s pitch according to fangraphs is running about 77 on average, his fastball as well sits in the mid 80s. He’s not your prototypical “put it up there and see what he can do with it” knuckleballer, because of the speed of his pitch Dickey is more accurately able to place the pitch and its movements are more subtle. Dickey is kind of the “new breed” of knuckleball pitcher, and has over the past 3 years been a very effective, often dominant starter.
The hardest thing to have take in here is that there is no real comparable here. Dickey isn’t like any other pitchers. Dickey is statistically an outlier, most pitchers don’t suddenly become dominant at 36, most knuckleballers aren’t dominant, and most dominant pitchers don’t throw over 90% of their pitches between 77 and 84 mph. We have to look at Dickey in broad strokes: He’s a recently dominant right handed starter, he’s giving his team a lot of innings per year, He’s 38 years old, and he throws the least controllable pitch in major league baseball around 80% of the time. Putting all of that together it’s a hard list to figure. If he threw like Mike Mussina at the same age, 14mil for 1 year with a team option for another 14+ wouldn’t be out of the question. If his track record were more consistent (prior to his Mets tenure) the same could likely be said. He is however instead a ridiculously dominant knuckleballer nearing 40 years old. I don’t know if his annual will be any higher than 10, maybe 12 million but he has an outside shot at a 3 year extension with an option for a 4th year. Could the Mets get clever and use Tim Wakefield’s previous contract model? A recurring option for a set price? Would Dickey be interested in that kind of cost certainty without any real promise of continued employment year to year, maybe the buyout would need to be rather high, around ½ of the annual salary?
While I like Dickey as a pitcher, I have some (I believe understandable) reservations about him. I think he has found his groove, he locates an unlocatable pitch, he’s been healthy, and he hasn’t shown any particular slip in his productivity, in fact his FIP this season is significantly lower than it was over either of the previous two seasons. He does however live and die by the most volatile pitch in baseball, if he develops a mechanical issue, “correcting” it might not be enough to get him back to who he is today. When a power pitcher starts getting out ahead of his pitches and starts letting fastballs sail too high, it can be corrected, when a finesse pitcher loses their arm slot and their slider only moves laterally it can be corrected, but when a knuckleball doesn’t exist within the perfect storm that makes it effective, it’s a BP fastball or it becomes a wild pitch. While he is a knuckleballer, and empirical evidence shows that if you throw a knuckleball you can throw forever, or at least until you get tired of playing baseball for money, Dickey throws it a lot harder than average which could make him the unfortunate exception to that rule.
All of that said, if I were in the Mets front office I might be willing to try to strike a pretty aggressive deal, a 3 year extension, for 32 mil, broken down as 12, 10, 10, followed by a recurring team option for 6 mil with a 2.5 mil buyout. If you were in Dickey’s shoes, would that be enough to put your name on paper?