The Braves are currently mired in controversy but the offseason is here and to get that underway, we are going to be taking a look back at the 2017 team to see how they might fit for next season.
The starting rotation was one of the leading storylines surrounding the 2017 Atlanta Braves. Specifically, the team spent much of the offseason looking for veteran additions that could eat innings and perform as stopgap solutions without blocking any of their young pitching prospects.
The result was the acquisition of Jaime Garcia via trade with the Cardinals and the free agent signings of R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon.
What were the expectations?
Dickey agreed to a one-year, $7.5 million contract back in November which also contained an $8 million team option for 2018. He was coming off a down year in Toronto and the Braves hoped that a return to the National League where he was a former Cy Young winner would help him get back on track.
The goal for the veteran additions to the Braves’ pitching staff was to eat innings. You can’t do that without being consistent. Consistency for the most part, was exactly what Dickey gave the Braves in 2017.
Dickey ended up starting 31 games for Atlanta and led the team with 190 innings pitched. His 4.26 ERA led all qualified starters. He posted a FIP of 4.33 and an xFIP of 4.79. He was worth 1.6 fWAR which places him second on the Braves staff behind only Mike Foltynewicz. Per Baseball Reference, he had a bWAR of 2.1 which may be a bit more descriptive measure of a knuckleball pitcher overall.
The case can be made that Dickey was the team’s most consistent starting pitcher. He was hit hard early on but put together a stretch in June and July where he allowed three runs or less in nine out of ten starts.
Dickey appeared to be running out of gas in early September when he allowed 16 earned runs in just 14 1/3 innings over three starts. However, he reversed course and finished the season on a high note, allowing just four runs in his final two starts spanning 14 2/3 innings.
There is an inexact science to commanding the knuckleball. When Dickey’s walks went up, he tended to struggle. Still, Dickey allowed 3.17 walks per nine innings which again was tops on the staff.
When the Braves originally signed Dickey, I figured there was no chance that they would even entertain the thought of picking up his 2018 option. His down year in Toronto, his age and the quantity of pitching prospects that the Braves have approaching the majors seemed to all be working against him.
However, that isn’t how it worked out. Dickey was so consistent this season that the Braves may be inclined to pick up his option in hopes that he can provide stability and a veteran presence for a rotation that is going to be much younger in 2018. That is, if he is willing to return.
Dickey declined to start the team’s season finale in Miami and has declined questions on whether or not he is planning to retire before next season. The Braves for their part have not indicated whether or not they play to pick up Dickey’s option but will instead wait until he he makes a decision.
In the end the Braves brought Dickey in to eat innings and he was successful in that. While all of Atlanta’s veteran pitching additions didn’t work out (see Bartolo Colon), this one worked out particularly well.