Dempster Diving For Better Trade Value

Ryan Dempster has always been a solid pitcher, and given that he regularly piles up the innings, has developed a reputation as a workhorse as well. The 35-year-old righty has battled quad and back injuries this season, but when he’s pitched, he has been spectacular. And now that he is back on the mound, he is attracting quite a bit of trade interest, as teams that may not want to pony up the prospects that it would take to land Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels (should they even really become available) try to find an alternative solution.

This season has been a revelation of sorts for Dempster. He has made 13 starts, and has pitched at least six innings and allowed four runs or less in 11 of them. One of the other two outings was on May 30, when he allowed six runs to the Padres in 4.1 innings. The second was this past Sunday, when he shut out the Mets for five innings in his return from the disabled list. Part of his success is due to the fact that he has posted a career-best walk rate this season. Not only has he controlled his walks, he has been consistent in controlling them. Over the past two seasons, Dempster’s walk rate had blown up, shooting way over league average after two seasons under it in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 and 2011, it shot up because of his flareups. Dempster walked two or fewer batters in 39 of his 68 starts, but when he lost his control, he lost it bad — he had eight outings in those two years where he walked either five or six batters. In those eight outings, he had a BB/9 of 8.42. This season, he has tempered his control, as he hasn’t walked more than four batters in any start.

The added control couldn’t have come at a better time. After years of maintaining the same velocity range, Dempster has finally felt the pinch of father time, as his average fastball velocity has dipped under 90. As his velocity has dipped, so too have his strikeouts. He is not getting the same velocity on his four-seamer and sinker, so he has worked in his cutter more to compensate. It has worked so far. The question will be whether or not the success will continue. In examining his Dempster’s batted ball rates, there doesn’t seem to be any discernible shift from last year to this year — there have been just fewer balls leaving the yard. The same is true for his BABIP. After seven straight seasons in a Cubs uniform with a BABIP that ranged from .271-.324, Dempster is rocking a .241 BABIP this season.

So the question is, is Dempster really pitching better, or is he just experiencing better results? xFIP and SIERA would have us believe the latter. With fewer balls leaving the yard, Dempster’s ERA and FIP are down, and on the surface he’s having a career year. But his xFIP and SIERA paint different pictures:

2008 2.96 3.41 3.69 3.81
2009 3.65 3.87 3.76 3.85
2010 3.85 3.99 3.74 3.73
2011 4.80 3.91 3.70 3.79
2012 1.99 3.15 3.70 3.79
Range 2.81 0.84 0.07 0.12

Not only do xFIP and SIERA paint Dempster as an identical pitcher to the one he was last year, but they see him as being pretty much the same guy ever since he was slotted back into the rotation in 2008. As such, it might not be a great idea to fall head over heels and overbid for him, something that could happen considering there may be 10 teams scouting him this weekend. With the power in the market shifting towards the seller, it seems likely that some margin of overpay will need to be built into each trade this July, so it may not be able to be helped. But teams should know going in that if they are to acquire Dempster, they may not be getting the 1.99 ERA version, especially if the team doing the acquiring — say, for instance, the Orioles or the Tigers — isn’t as sharp defensively as have been the Cubs.

Still, there is comfort to be found in these numbers, as interested parties have a pretty solid baseline for Dempster’s performance moving forward. He may keep doing the low-BABIP dance — in the past two seasons, there have been eight sub-.250 BABIP campaigns — and may retain his league-leading ERA for the season’s duration. But even if he doesn’t, he should remain a top-30 starting pitcher. And the fact that he has been able to course correct so quickly to his drop in velocity and maintain his performance should be of further comfort.

Ryan Dempster is not as good a pitcher as fellow 2013 free agents Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels, but over the course of two to two and a half of months, the difference between them probably won’t be much more than a win and a half. And Dempster is going to cost far less to land, whether by quantity, quality and even ETA to the Majors. while the Brewers and Phillies are still veteran-laden teams that are built to win soon and will thus need prospects that are close to the Majors, the Cubs are just the opposite. They are trying to ramp up to compete in 2014 and beyond, so A ball prospects may be perfectly suitable. Dempster’s health is still be an open question, but when you put together the whole equation — performance plus cost of acquisition — he may just be the better trade target.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

17 Responses to “Dempster Diving For Better Trade Value”

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  1. Bighead Burton says:

    > especially if the team doing the acquiring — say, for instance, the Orioles or the Tigers — isn’t as sharp defensively as have been the Cubs.

    With Starlin playing the Cubs still have a good defense?

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    • doogolas says:

      Starlin has been excellent defensively this year. At least according to Fangraphs, B-Ref and BP. And the eye test.

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    • Brandon says:

      Doog is right. This isn’t aimed just at you Bighead, but people should probably start doing their homework first on guys like Starlin Castro before just making assumptions based on the national media.

      His defense at SS this season has been among the best in the league at SS so far this season.

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      • Brett W says:

        Starlin is much improved this year and looks a lot more comfortable at SS. I suspect the rumor-mongering of his need to move to 2B, 3B, or CF will soon hibernate for 8 to 12 years.

        A lot of it has to be having Darwin Barney at 2nd, who has truly been one of the most amazing defensive second baggers I’ve ever seen. It seems like the only time he ever makes a “mistake” if when he just misses pulling off something that seems impossible.

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  2. cody k says:

    could someone tell me what they think a season changing package of Garza, Dempster, and LaHair (w/ Cubs paying all of the salaries) could get from a team like DET/TOR/BAL/TB?

    I would love to think that they could get the big 2 prospects from the Tigers w/ that package but I don’t know how realistic that would be. And if that is moderately realistic, would Cubs tossing in Vitters be enough to get it done?

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    • Keith says:

      If you’re trading all 3 guys, you’d better be getting Turner, Castellanos, and more. I’m still not one who likes Turner. However, where they’d realistically stick LaHair on a regular basis might not be 100% clear.

      I still prefer trying to get Syndergaard and/or Nicolino from Toronto over the other trade partners.

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      • Spike says:

        but TOR is only in the fringes of the race. Can’t see them tossing a big arm prospect for a 2 month rental to get them from 4th to 3rd place.

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    • Eric says:

      Rangers have come close the last 2 seasons and seem to be a team that has the prospects to make sure they don’t come close for a 3rd time.

      I suspect the Rangers will land one or two of Garza, Dempster, Greinke/Hamels (no way they land both Greinke and Hamels).

      They’d probably have to part with Olt, Buckels, Odor and someone tho.

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    • CubsFan16 says:

      The Cubs could probably get Castellanos for Darwin Barney. At second base the Tigers have been the least productive of any team this season. The Tigers seem to like Castellanos, but they have Cabrera and Fielder occupying the corner positions of the infield so they have nowhere to put him.

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      • sucklingduck says:

        There is no way the Tigers trade their best hitting prospect for a replacement level player. Darwin Barney may have a cool sounding name but he is the epitome of a replacement level player.

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      • Stringer Bell says:

        Are you high? Dombrowski is not a dumbass, he would never do that deal in a berjillion years. Castellanos is going nowhere unless it’s for an elite player, and that is not Dempster and it’s especially not Darwin Barney.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:


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      • Daniel says:

        I’m sure CubsFan16 isn’t high but I don’t agree that Barney fetches Castellanos. That said, teams like Barney and they should – he can’t hit a lot but he’s good enough defensively that he cannot be considered the epitome of a replacement level player. Up the midde defense is not that easy to find after all.

        If it was Garza/Dempster and Barney going to the Tigers, then at least one of Turner or Castellanos would have to be involved.

        ‘Course I doubt Barney is going to be traded. Everyone likes up the middle defense but no one really wants to be seen handing over much for it either. It just lacks that little dose of satisfaction.

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      • jason says:

        hahaha…funniest thing I’ve heard all day! Hope the Cubs front office doesn’t have the same delusions that you do!

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      • Norm says:

        I love my fellow Cub fans.

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      • Eminor3rd says:

        This is hilarious

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  3. Greg says:

    Whom would be a better pitcher to acquire for any team, Garza or Dempster? Dempster has shown to be better in some major statistics over Garza rather than SIERA, but Garza also has AL experience (for what that’s worth)

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