Dempster Proves Himself

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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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

14 Responses to “Dempster Proves Himself”

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  1. Llewdor says:

    Just really better?

    Is he wearing a Q-Ray?

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  2. Adam says:

    Agreed, he really is pretty good. Not sure if I could call him a top 10 NL pitcher, but definitely top 15 or so.

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  3. Deacon Drake says:

    He showed flashes of this when he was with the Marlins, but because his name wasn’t Josh Beckett or AJ Burnett, he was considered just another young guy who was closing in on arbitration. Then he got hurt and faded into the bullpen for awhile, which apparently helped him focus and slash the walks.

    So many pitchers skid down the path Dempster took… very few rebound and pitch to their potential. Amazing the Cubs can’t compete with the outstanding seasons put up by Dempster, Lilly, and freaking Randy Wells. Oh yeah, they round that out with Chubby and Harden.

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    • Joe R says:

      Don’t forget the awesome $18 million a year they have OBP’ing .303 in Left Field*

      *may be hurt, therefore making this a harsh, unfair assessment of Soriano.

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  4. Joe R says:

    Any reason as to why, say, a guy like Dempster suddenly becomes a solid MLB starter?

    I look at his pitches and it doesn’t look like he has any new wrinkles. Same FB/SL/CH (or SF as classified in 2009) guy, about the same ratios. His slider his suddenly exploded, though, he has the 4th best wSL in MLB.

    This sounds like a Dave Allen pitch f/x chart post if I’ve ever heard one. I’d love to see if his slider is suddenly this much better.

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  5. John says:

    I’ll admit I thought Dempster might stink it up a bit this year, and at the beginning of the year I thought he would. But he’s done well since. I think he was maligned as a closer even though he did a decent job. I’m glad he worked his way back as a good starter, especially after reading how he busted his butt in the offseason to get in shape.

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  6. CJ in Austin,TX says:

    Wandy Rodriguez is another starting pitcher who seemed to take big steps forward in the middle of his career. Like Lee and Dempster, he is a LHP. The old baseball saying is that lefthand pitchers take longer to develop. Any truth to it?

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  7. CJ in Austin,TX says:

    OK, give me a failing grade on the previous post. I had a brain freeze in thinking that Dempster is lefthanded.


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