Ryan Dempster Changes, Remains the Same

The Brewers aren’t sure that they want to go to three years for Ryan Dempster, but they do need a pitcher now that Shaun Marcum is seeing other teams. There are good reasons to like him — a few changes he’s made in his approach have seem to stuck — and there is one main reason to worry about giving him too many years.

From 2009 to 2012, Dempster has had an 8.5% walk rate, which is pretty much average. That average walk rate has made him an above-average starter, because he can get whiffs and usually has an average ground-ball rate. But in the first ten years of his career, he had a 11.1% unintentional walk rate. The peripheral best associated with walk rate is first strike percentage. In his first ten years, Dempster was better than average in that category only once — in his last four years he has not been below average once.

So that’s a change that has been good to Dempster, and looks sustainable. Dempster has also stayed true to himself over the years, and that may be concerning to teams looking at him for a multi-year deal.

Ryan Dempster has thrown the fifth-most sliders in baseball since 2009. He’s basically thrown the slide piece a third of the time over his entire career. Even as his pitching mix has changed around the pitch — maybe he’s thrown more cutters and splitters and fewer changes, or maybe the classifications have changed — he’s featured the slider as his best secondary pitch. The pitch has remained effective, counting as a negative only twice in his eleven-year career, and it’s certainly led to his above-average swinging strike and strikeout rates over the years.

But Dempster is going to be 36 next season, and that’s a lot of sliders on his arm. The work isn’t perfect, but there seems to be some evidence that sliders can be tough on arms and lead to more injuries. Last year he strained his shoulder — the first time he missed significant time with an arm/shoulder thing since Tommy John surgery in 2004, but still an injury.

The Brewers are rumored to be balking at adding a third year to the deal, and it might be for good reason. The Angels were once in on Dempster, but with the pitcher looking for three years, their interest has waned.

The thing that has changed — Dempster’s first-strike approach — bodes well for Dempster to keep up his newly found league-average control. But it’s the thing that has remained the same — Dempster’s reliance on the slider — that may make his age a big deal.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

8 Responses to “Ryan Dempster Changes, Remains the Same”

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  1. Cidron says:

    Okay, I get it. Sliders “may” shorten careers or add injuries. But, the history of baseball is littered with notable sliders over a players career. Some are, agreed, more injury prone than others. Some notable sliders belonged to David Cone, Bob Gibson, Eckersley, Randy Johnson, Guidry, Steve Carlton. No, I am not trying to compare any of these to Dempster. Just saying that the increased injury risk isn’t certain. Most of these listed were not overly prone to the DL. Nor were they strangers to it.. Over time, most players and pitchers will visit it.

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  2. tbr says:

    The Royals also offered Dempster two years and are refusing to go three. Seems like a trend.

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  3. Bip says:

    I would think that good health for the past 8 seasons despite consistent slider usage would be a better indicator of future health than studies about pitchers in general. Generalized studies are most useful when we have little situation-specific data, but in this case we have over 2000 innings of Ryan Dempster on which to draw more specific conclusions.

    In there an interaction effect between slider usage and age on injury rates?

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  4. Rob says:

    I think you’ve got to include John Smoltz when considering notable sliders, especially considering what he did during the same age seasons as what Dempster will be doing his next 3 years.

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  5. Alex says:

    Heard royals may be softening their stance on the third year, considering they just gave guthrie a 3/25 deal, they should toss demps a 3/35ish deal and have a very good chance of seeing good value for at least the first two years, as they’re looking for the same out of guthrie, since he’ll be 36/37 by the end of his deal. If they structure the deal similarly (small first year, big second and then a lower third year, they could position themselves to possibly get out from under the last year if there are problems, or put in language to protect against injury the third year. His increased control and rise in pitcher’s counts is much more important and stable than a “possible” injury due to slider overuse.

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  6. Alex says:

    The royals aren’t as poor as everyone thinks, our payroll has largely been surpressed by the Glass family’s ownership. Our “soft cap” is around 70mil which we are sitting at 64ish currently, but Mr. Glass has graciously stated that he was willing to put more money in if it signifigantly improves the team. Francouer (7mil) comes off the books next year, and if we can dump hochevar, thats another 4mil gone. simple moves that free up 11mil for 2014, meanwhile we can sign him to the deal like guthrie as I stated and give him maybe 7mil-ish this year until we get relief. that would put our salary at 73mil. 3 million is a pretty small jump in payroll to bring in a consistent no. 2 big league pitcher.

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