When looking at Ryan Dempster’s ranking at the end of last season – 31st overall, $10 – my first reaction was “that’s about right.” That’s exactly who Dempster is. If you looked up “31st best pitcher” in the dictionary, if such an entry existed, you’d probably find a picture of Ryan Dempster. He only started 28 games last season, which is 5-6 less than usual, so if he had pitched a full schedule his ranking may be a bit higher, but you get my point. He’s not one of the top 20 starters in baseball, but he’s squarely in the top 40 discussion.
Yesterday Dempster signed a two year, $26.5 million contract with the Red Sox, ending his successful nine and a half year run with the Cubs, not counting the two months with the Rangers. The soon to be 36-year-old had an up and down 2012 season, the down coming in his time in Texas. His ERA before August, i.e. his time with the Cubs, was 1.94. He didn’t allow an earned run in June. He was way better than the 31st ranked pitcher. Then the trade to Texas happened.
In 69 innings with the Rangers his ERA and WHIP were 5.13 and 1.45. In the immortal words of Charles Barkley, that’s turrrrrible. He didn’t actually pitch nearly as bad as his ERA looked, though. His FIP and xFIP for his time in Texas were respectable – 4.06 and 3.85. A low BABIP (.255) had helped his numbers in Chicago and a high one (.330) had inflated them in Texas. He’s not as good as his season with the Cubs and not nearly as bad as his numbers with the Rangers suggest. His strikeout numbers increased significantly after transitioning to the American League as well, which is counter to popular logic.
Now he’ll be taking his talents to Boston. Fenway Parkw actually rated as a better hitters park in 2012 than Arlington, and has ranked in the top seven each of the past three seasons. As Dave Cameron pointed out yesterday, pitchers coming from the National League into the AL East haven’t struggled as much people generally assume. He cited Hiroki Kuroda, Jason Hammel, Carlos Villanueva and rookies Miguel Gonazlez and Wei-Yin Chen as examples of pitchers who have actually thrived in the new environment. The quality in competition he faces will increase from the NL Central to the AL East, but it won’t turn him into a vastly different pitcher. He’ll have a better lineup behind him as well. The Red Sox 9th in runs scored last season and shouldn’t be any worse this year with a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz, while the Cubs were 28th.
Dempster won’t be a star, but his value won’t be significantly hurt by the move. A sub 4.00 ERA with ~12-15 wins and an above average strikeout rate are well within the realm of possibility.