Given what we know now, about the failures of Rincon and Bass in the pen, it looks like it was probably a mistake, since R.A. Dickey posted a 2.00 ERA and held opposing batters to a .205/.287/.307 line as a reliver with the Marines while compiling an 1.11 WHIP, 1.43 K/BB and 5.0 K/9 in 36 innings of relief.
Let's dig a bit deeper. Dickey also started 14 games for 76.3 innings and he was horrible as a starter: Opponents batted .316/.385/.506 off him, he had a 6.72 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 1.01 K/BB and 4.49 K/9. That is below replacement level. For comparison purposes, while with the Twins, Livan Hernandez had a 5.48 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 1.86 K/BB, 3.50 K/9. Given that knuckleballers can pitch until embalmed and should not have that much difference between starting and relieving (because they can go for many innings in consecutive days), how is this schism on Dickey's stats explained? Looking even closer, there are several warning signs about Dickey:
a. His knuckleball is too fast. It averages 73 mph while his fastball averages 85 and his change 74. To be effective in needs to be in the 60s maximum.
b. His knuckleball has not enough movement. Given that and its speed hitters sit on it like a change and hit it like a change. Hitters chased only 18% of his knuckleballs last season (for comparison purposes hitters chased 37% of Bonser's off-speed offerings and 40% of Guerrier's). In addition to the lack of the movement, he does not have control of it. His overall K/BB last season was 1.14.
c. Last season he threw 65% knuckleballs and 30% fastballs (of the Livan variety of “fastball” with similar results, 1.56 WHIP) He’s got to be at the 90% knuckleball 10% fastball range
d. His BABIP as a starter was .322 and as a reliever a ridiculous .226; which means that with a normal BABIP of .290 he would be closer to a 4.75 ERA 1.45 WHIP pitcher.
I do not have the numbers, but maybe as a starter he used his fastball more and an 85 mph fastball in this league is bigger than a harvest moon to a professional hitter (ask Livan). If this is the case, a good pitching instructor who specializes on knucleballers (alas, the Twins have none such beast in their current staff) might fix the problem.
Which Dickey will show up next year (Jeckyl or Hyde, R or A) is hard to fortell; regardless, R.A. Dickey is a great human story
One more note: Number 41 is taken by Bobby Korecky. Would he been a better option than Dickey in the Twins' pen?