Not much has gone right for the Cubs this season, as a team that many thought would be among the league’s best has fallen on tough times. However, despite the disappointing season, there have been a few things that have gone right, including the continued success of Ryan Dempster.
Last year, Dempster surprised the world by moving from the bullpen to the rotation and improving significantly in the process. His breakthrough season was so unexpected that it wasn’t hard to find people who considered him to be a fluke, just the latest in a series of guys having great years before they are eligible for free agency. Dempster certainly did cash in on his success, signing a 4 year, $52 million contract with the Cubs after the season ended.
And he’s been worth every penny so far.
Dempster has retained almost all of the skill-based value he showed last year. His walk rate and strikeout rate are both down a bit in proportion, so his K/BB is basically unchanged from 2008 to 2009. His HR/9 is up, which accounts for the higher FIP and ERA that he’s posting this year, but that was to be expected – his 7.7% HR/FB rate from last year was unsustainable, and regression in that would have been expected even if Dempster had pitched exactly the same as the year prior.
His groundball rate is the same. His contact rate is the same. His percentage of strikes is the same. Dempster is basically repeating his 2008 season, just with a little less good fortune in HR/FB and BABIP. If you were concerned with 2008 being a fluke, 2009 should have eased your minds a bit. He’s now put together two very good seasons in a row and is establishing himself as one of the game’s better starting pitchers.
Between Dempster and Cliff Lee, we’ve seen two pretty compelling cases for the ability of pitchers to take big steps forward in the middle of their careers and sustain them thereafter. Not all out of nowhere seasons are unsustainable flukes. Sometimes, they just really did get better.
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