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Will Ryan Dempster Attack The Zone?

It was almost too easy to call the demise of Ryan Dempster when he was dealt from the Cubs to the Rangers in July. DIPS theory will always have its share of headscratchers, but Dempster’s case was clear cut: with the Cubs, he managed a .242 BABIP and a 9.0% HR/FB compared to career marks of .301 and 10.5% respectively. Upon being moved out of one of the worst divisions and into one of the toughest — and one of the toughest parks to pitch in — Dempster has allowed a .319 BABIP and a 13.5% HR/FB. His ERA skyrocketed from 2.25 with Chicago to 4.64 with Texas. Simple stuff.

Now, thanks to a remarkable charge by Oakland, the Rangers are left with one last game to claim the American League West and avoid the dreaded Wild Card play-in game with Dempster on the hill. Even since being traded out of the cozy confines of the National League, Dempster has had success in the larger American League road parks. He allowed eight runs in six innings against the Yankees, but in his other five road starts, Dempster owns a 2.82 ERA with a 3.48 FIP, including 29 strikeouts against 10 walks in 28.2 innings.

The key difference between Dempster on the road — the Dempster we’ll see this afternoon in Oakland — and Dempster at home? Road Dempster attacks the strike zone.

When pitching at Arlington, Dempster focuses on keeping the ball down, whether it stays in the zone or not:

We see a more centrally distributed frequency looking at his other starts (both National and American League): he pops the center of the zone, then the corners, and misses out of the zone even less often.

Dempster’s insistence on going down in the zone couldn’t keep the ball in The Ballpark (in Arlington). Even though he got a majority of ground balls in four of his five starts, opposing hitters still managed to make their fly balls counting, mashing five home runs. The result of his nibbling down and outside of the strike zone was an increased walk rate — 3.5 per nine innings compared to 2.5 per nine innings everywher else, making those home runs hurt even more.

When Dempster takes the hill in Oakland, the home run ball should still be a concern — the Athletics rank seventh in the league in home runs, an unthinkable notion coming into the year. But that notion shouldn’t prevent him from attacking the Athletics with pitches inside the strike zone — like most pitchers, Dempster is at his best when he’s keeping runners off the bases. Such has been Ryan Dempster’s plan all year away from Arlington, and we shouldn’t expect him to deviate now in game 162.