Goatriders of the Apocalypse

2010 Player Preview: Ryan Dempster

2010 Player Preview
Ryan Dempster's successful conversion from reliever to starter has been one of the greatest values for the Chicago Cubs over the past few seasons.

You do realize he had a base salary of just $5.5 million in 2008, right? That's the year he pitched 206.2 innings, racked up 187 strikeouts, won 17 games, and posted a 2.96 ERA. Fangraphs estimates his play was worth roughly $22.7 million that season, given his performance over what you'd expect from a replacement-level player.

As they say: Holy Cow!

Last year, Dempster played for a base salary of $8 million, but still managed to provide excellent value for his team. He didn't exactly repeat his 2008 performance, but 200 innings of 3.65 ERA ball are worth about $16 million on the open market, so the team made out like bandits once again.

Of course, this is a series of 2010 season previews, so let's get to the Dempster-related question of the day: What should we expect from Ryan this season?

Based on the numbers I trust, the short answer I'll give you is this: another solid season. Multiple projection systems suggest Demp will be in the 180-200 inning neighborhood once again, and that his ERA will be below 4.00 once again.

For the longer answer, let me point out a few important trends that suggest Demp will be good again in 2010.

First: Remember agonizing over Dempster's insistence on loading the bases before closing out games back when he pitched from the 'pen? A lot of that had to do with walks. From 2004 to 2007, he walked more than four batters per nine innings pitched.

Fortunately, since moving to the rotation, Dempster's BB/9 have gone down. In 2007, he walked 4.05 per 9. In 2008, that was down to 3.31, and in 2009 the number fell again, to 2.93. He probably won't lower that number again this year, but at the very least he's demonstrated an ability to limit those walks (a skill he seemed to forget in 2008 -- GAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!).

Second: In his second go-'round as a starter, Dempster's out pitch only got better last season. Dempster has a nasty slider, which he threw 27.4% of the time in 2008, to extremely positive results. In 2009, he upped that percentage to 34.1%, and opposing batters still couldn't hit it.

The reason it's so good is because it coaxes batters into swinging often, and when they do swing they often miss. In fact, while the average pitcher allowed contact on 62% of balls thrown outside the strike zone, Dempster's number was much lower, at 48.2%. Expect Demp to continue feeding opponents a steady dose of sliders, and expect opponents to continue to struggle against it.

Third: He's Canadian. The Olympics were in Canada. The Canucks won hockey. And let me be clear: I do NOT believe in coincidences.

Let's go ahead and call this one right now. Dempster will be good for 195 innings, 160 strikeouts, 12 wins, and a 3.70 ERA. Seem right to you?


Dempster's Quality - More 'Depends' (not the adult diaper kind)

When Ryan Dempster signed his massive, four-year deal with the Cubs after his amazing 17 win season, I (and about every Cub fan with an ounce of common sense) loudly protested against him being rewarded with any contract lasting more than three years. 

I think most of us doubted last year that he'd post the same kind of ERA that he did in '08, but it was both conceivable -- if not probable -- that he'd be reliable.  And he was.  Year Two should be more of the same.  200-or-so innings, as AJ projects, 160-or-more strikeouts, and I'd actually say that Dempster will have an ERA no higher than 3.70, with a possibility of dipping down into the low 3's. 

Either way, his win total will be contingent on two things -- if he can stay healthy and how good the offense is.  With last year's offense, 2010 Dempster is still probably a 12-win guy.  With 2008's offense, he'd be a 15-or-more win guy.  While I doubt that the '10 Cubs are going to be as much an offensive juggernaut as the '08 squad was, I do think they should be a bit better than last year's team. 

For that reason, I'm banking on Dempster winning more than 12 games.  And if the Cubs are good and surprise us with 90 -- or even 87 -- wins or more, then Dempster will likely be responsible for at least 15 of them.  Here's to hope.

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