The Spectacularly Solid Ryan Dempster

What makes 34 year-old pitchers like Ryan Dempster boring are to read and write about is that the Cubs’ opening day starter lacks what closer Carlos Marmol oozes – volatility. While certainly not a team’s prototypical number one starter, Dempster has done everything that the Cubs have asked of him – and more – for taking a chance on him when no other team would. 

Following Dempster’s Tommy John surgery in 2003, the Cincinnati Reds released the 26 year-old righty, and it appeared as if his career would come to an ultimate close. Elbow surgeries – specifically the TJ – are professional death on slider specialists like Dempster, although Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry rolled the dice on him, and the risk has paid off in the long run.

Following the surgery, Dempster signed for a mere $300,000 with a $2M club option. Dempster sat out the most of the 2004 season recovering from the surgery, and came back at the end of the 04′ season to pitch 20 innings of statistically-unspectacular baseball. Bright spots were abound in the limited, relief action, as his slider sat around 87 mph, while it went for roughly 85 pre-surgery. His fastball also gained a tick of speed to 93 mph.

Dempster found a home as a reliever in the Cubs’ bullpen from 2004-07 with mixed results as he struggled to find his control. When he moved to the starting rotation in 2008, he dropped his velocity on all his pitches, and his control vastly improved. While averaging a Marmol-esque 4.70 BB/9 in the bullpen, he has averaged 3.27 BB/9 since the move back to a starting role.

Dempster’s slider hasn’t seen any negative effects, as he continues to throw it more than 30% of the time, and against any handed batter. Dempster’s slider is a practically un-hittable chase pitch thrown against right-handed batters, and more of a pitch he likes to throw for strikes against lefties.

Slider use vs Lefties:Righties (from a catcher’s perspective)

What Dempster has been using as a put away pitch against left-handed batters has been a change-up/split-finger fastball he has been working on since he came to the Cubs. This has helped him improve his K/9 against lefties, which is significantly better compared to righties (10.52 vs. lefties : 7.36 vs. righties). That said, his control of the pitch is rather unharnessed, as evidenced in his 2010 stats (4.57 : 2.89) and heat maps.

Change-up use vs Lefties:Righties (from a catcher’s perspective)

For the past three years, Ryan Dempster has been one of the most valued pitchers in the entire Chicago Cub pitching staff, and it’s one of the reasons he was named the opening day starter. That said, with Dempster’s age and heavy slider use, one has to wonder just how much longer he can produce at an above-average level.

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