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Orioles face unique battle against R.A. Dickey tonight

Tonight, the Orioles battle the knuckleballer who has pitched well against them in the past, but has struggled in early-season games. Do the trends spell out something positive for the Birds?

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the Toronto Blue Jays. For whatever reason, this new Orioles budding rivalry with their neighbors from the north couldn't be more perfect. With the talent that's been on both sides over the past several seasons, the O's/Jays friction has heated up and taken a turn for the better.

The Birds have had their fair share of success against the "division favorites" over the past three seasons, but one guy has surprisingly fared pretty well against most of the hitters in the 2016 lineup.

R.A. Dickey might be 41 years old with a declining arsenal of pitches and a 6.75 ERA through three starts, but he might be the reason why Toronto is the on-paper favorite in tonight's matchup... at-least as far as past batting average numbers show.

Battling Ubaldo Jimenez in the second game of this three-game set, Dickey has been a quiet killer of the current Orioles bats for quite some time. And even on a downward career slide, there's still plenty to be concerned with for Buck Showalter and the lineup approaching tonight's matchup.

Still sitting pretty atop the East, the O's need to get contact early and often against Dickey to avoid dropping the series. Oddly enough, he's had some of his best success - on paper - against the Baltimore bats. Here are the career totals (h/t to ESPN):

Player AB H HR K
Pedro Alvarez 12 2 0 3
Chris Davis 25 6 2 8
Ryan Flaherty 11 2 1 1
J.J. Hardy 21 5 1 2
Adam Jones 25 3 1 6
Manny Machado 16 5 0 4
Jonathan Schoop 7 1 1 1
Mark Trumbo 3 1 1 0
Matt Wieters 13 3 0 4

On first glance, the thing that jumps out of the numbers is the average-to-low hit total across the board (aside from Manny Machado, who is not of this world). Dickey has performed nicely against some of the staples of the lineup, namely Adam Jones who apparently hates knuckleballs.

Pedro Alvarez hasn't been able to find green grass, J.J. Hardy has been just average and the Flaherty/Schoop combo is just 3-18. Maybe it's been the lack of pre-game prep against the knuckleball or just flat-out struggles at the plate, but Dickey has held the O's to a .227 average in his 11 career starts.

What's interesting when you dive into the stats, though, is the number of homers Dickey has allowed against this lineup. When you look across the board, the long-ball has been an issue despite low averages on balls in play (the strikeout rates aren't terribly high). Chris Davis has two homers, Adam Jones picked up one, and Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop launched round-trippers on their only hits against Dickey.

Heck, even Ryan Flaherty hit one out.

If the past numbers came close to averaging out, it looks like the Orioles would have at-least a shot to put some crooked numbers up in the late innings of Dickey's start ... that's the initial good news.

With that, here's a look at what Dickey has surrendered this year (small sample size alert, again) over three starts. It hasn't been much, but it certainly hasn't been pretty:

1 2 6.75 14.2 20 8 15

Feeling a little bit more confident? If these numbers, combined with previous trends tell us anything about Dickey in April, they say that the O's are catching the 41-year-old at the right time.

Check out these career month-by-month splits, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

March/April 5.04 .271 .341
May 4.41 .272 .334
June 3.40 .236 .303
July 3.94 .269 .323
August 3.94 .257 .315
September/October 3.41 .234 .289

Now the baseball traditionalists might argue that numbers can't tell the whole story, but I certainly argue that in Dickey's case that's not exactly true. Look at those splits! It's not far-fetched to judge that in the months of April and May, things just don't quite click. Maybe it's a knuckleball thing, or just the way Dickey is structured.

Either way, the stats show us he's not very good to begin the season, a trend backed up by his 2016 numbers. FanGraphs rates Dickey's knuckleball "pitch value" after three games at a -1.53, a significant dropoff from last season's 0.28. Combine that with the fact that he's leaving a whole lot of pitches over the center of the plate and you have what might just be a recipe of success ... or, at the very least, hope.

And while we're ahead, let's finish off with more good news. After all, why not take the optimistic route?

Here are a few career numbers from the top Toronto hitters against Ubaldo Jimenez:

  • Jose Bautista: 2-30 (.067 avg), 0 HR, 7 Ks
  • Josh Donaldson: 2-17 (.118 avg), 0 XBH, 8 Ks
  • Edwin Encarnacion: 6-32 (.188 avg)
  • Troy Tulowitzki: 0-3, 2 Ks
Have a great Wednesday, Camden Chatters.