Would You Rather: R.A. Dickey or Zack Greinke?

Upon hearing the news that the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147M contract, I couldn’t help but think, who would you rather have: Zack Greinke or R.A. Dickey?

Last week we asked how much more R.A. Dickey was worth than Joe Blanton. Now, I truly wonder if Zack Greinke is truly worth more than R.A. — and if so, how much?

More to the point, if you are Dodgers GM Ned Colletti or CEO Stan Kasten, would you rather sign Zack Greinke to the richest contract ever handed to a righthanded pitcher, or make a deal for R.A. Dickey?

The Dodgers will be paying Greinke almost $20M more than Dickey in 2013. They’ll then pay Greinke that amount every year through 2018, when Greinke turns 35 years old. (Actually, I’m not positive Greinke will be getting $24.5M per yer, I’m just averaging it out for the sake of argument.)

Is anyone else with me in believing that a) R.A. Dickey is a better pitcher right now than Greinke; and b) Dickey will be a better pitcher than Greinke six years from now?

Here’s my thinking: as a knuckleballer, R.A. has a pretty good chance of being at least an average MLB starter at the age of 43. In fact, I think he’ll be better than average — possibly a #3 starter on a championship team. On the other hand, I have my doubts that Greinke will be even that good when he’s 35. Going into his 29-year-old season in 2013, Greinke is supposed to be at his athletic physical peak. Yet, his performance dropped significantly from his age 25 season to 26, and seems to have plateaued. Pitching in the NL, I expect to see his performance improve, but I don’t expect him to get better and better. Rather, I expect him to have a great season in ’13, perhaps another in ’14, and then slide considerably as he enters his early 30s. Why? Because his effectiveness is largely tied to his velocity, and his velocity is already diminishing (albeit slightly) — as is to be expected when pitchers not named Nolan Ryan and/or don’t take PEDs age.

Further to the point, Greinke has been using his fastball less and less as he moves further away from that magical 2009 season. According to Fangraphs, Greinke threw his four-seam fastball — which averaged 93.7 MPH — 58.9% of the time in 2009, when he won the Cy Young with a 16-8 record, 2.16 ERA, and 1.07 WHIP (amongst other spectacular stats). In 2012, Greinke threw the four-seamer only 30.9% of the time; its average speed was 92.3 MPH. In ’09, Greinke was often in the 94-95 MPH range, touching 96 on occasion. Last year, he was usually at 92, touching 93. That’s a significant difference, and likely the reason he’s been turning to his sinker more often, and added a cutter to his arsenal.

To my eyes, Greinke’s mechanics aren’t for the long haul. I could be wrong, and hope I am, but there’s something that just doesn’t look quite right to me. It looks like he stands too upright after release, putting much of the strain of deceleration on his arm rather than his lower body. He’s also looking a little heavier now compared to his first few years in MLB. If I were a GM, I’d be wary of giving him a commitment beyond three years. Granted, a five-year deal is what a pitcher like Greinke commands on the open market, but I see him as just as risky as R.A. Dickey beyond the next two years.

Looking at the blockbuster deal with the Red Sox and all the money being spent, the Dodgers clearly are building to win now. That said, it makes sense to overpay a bit for a “second ace” to team with Clayton Kershaw during the team’s optimum window, which appears to be 2013-2015. I wonder if it would’ve made better sense for LA to overpay in trade for R.A. Dickey to fill that role. Perhaps the Mets would have allowed LA to negotiate a two-year extension — that would have been much less a financial commitment than the one just given Greinke — before completing the trade.

Of course, it’s possible the Dodgers weren’t able or willing to give up the players the Mets wanted in return for Dickey. It’s also possible the Mets would not have provided a negotiating window. But looking at the risk/reward of R.A. compared to Zack Greinke, if I’m the Dodgers, I’m preferable to three years of Dickey instead of six of Greinke.

What’s your thought? Do you think Greinke is better than R.A.? If you were a GM and had the choice between the two, which would you choose, and why? Answer in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. MikeT December 10, 2012 at 11:15 am
    I would rather have Dickey.

    Don’t forget that Greinke also has social anxiety disorder and missed time (before he won the CY Young in 2009). This could be a moot point, but if you are looking at a reason to balk on a big deal, this is one. Even if he is the best pitcher in baseball and a total stud with no baggage at all, giving a multiyear contract to a free agent starting pitcher is a bad idea. They never live up to their contracts. Patrick Flood made this argument over a year ago and I refer to it whenever free agent pitchers are signed to big deals. http://patrickfloodblog.com/2011/10/17/signing-free-agent-pitchers/

    My point is that I’d rather extend Dickey for only a few years than have 6-7 of a pitcher in his decline years. I’d not sure why teams do not realize that the pitcher they are getting is going to both gradually get worse and gradually get richer off of them. It is foolhardy.

  2. derek December 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm
    i would take chances with RA. Greinke is a huge risk with anxiety issue in ny. and odds are good a pitcher signed that long gets hurt.
  3. wohjr December 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm
    I’d take Dickey. I hear Grenkie doesn’t even like star wars and cares nothing for the orphans of Mumbai
  4. Mike B December 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm
    The 6 year deals for over 20 mil a year are no good for SP, they never seem to work out and always hurt the team in the end. The list goes on and on and you have trouble naming a SP that was over 28 years old that was signed for long term over 20 million that works out. C.C. is one and maybe Doc Holiday.
  5. DaveSchneck December 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm
    RA, no doubt. Mets are luckey to have him – he will either be here or net 2 top level prospects to fill major voids. Either way we win.
    • Izzy December 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm
      are u absolutely positive that the Mers can’t lose with two top prospects!! Is that because most top prospects don’t amount to much? Is that because the law of averages says Alderson can’t mess up 3 Winters in a row? How’s all those top prospects work out when we dumped Seaver? Hmm, we lost? How’d the Expos do with all thise great propsects they got for Clendeon. Hmm, they lost. Howd the Twinkies do for Santana? Hmm… But we can’t lose now can we?????
      • Mike B December 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm
        So Whats the answer Izzy, you want to give this guy 40 million to pitch here the next 3 years? I hate unproven talent, but I would rather get something then have him pitch this year and get 0. Hopefully they could get someone who is ML ready.
      • DaveSchneck December 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm
        Obviously, there is risk in signing and risk in trading, whether it be for propsects or established players. The statement that it is a win win situation just means that either going with Dickey or gambling on two top prospects is a good problem to have. My preference would be to keep him, but given the lack of in house solutions at C and OF, combined with the the weak projected FA market in 2014 when the Mets may actually have money to spend, nabbing two top prospects is probably worth the gamble. Anything less and a trade would not make sense.
  6. argonbunnies December 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm
    I think Greinke is the slightly better pitcher over the next 2-3 years. Basically, there’s more evidence that he’ll sustain a high K rate than that Dickey will. When you factor in the money, though, R.A. is definitely a much better deal.
    • Joe Janish December 11, 2012 at 10:02 am
      I’m assuming the evidence is that Greinke has been at or above 8 K/9 his entire career, and R.A. went over 8 K/9 for the first time last year, therefore it could be a fluke?

      Maybe. But what concerns me is that Greinke’s K rate has been steadily decreasing, and walk rate steadily increasing, over the past few years. And his velocity is diminishing slightly. Meantime, R.A. has shown improvement over the past three years, throwing a pitch that doesn’t necessarily depend on velocity.

      I guess much depends on whether one believes Dickey is a fluke, and/or whether one believes he can remain healthy as he gets closer to 40. Though I think Greinke is as much a risk when it comes to health.