The Red Sox finally addressed their starting pitching problem last week by inking veteran RHP Ryan Dempster to a 2 year, $26.5 million deal. While most people more or less expected the Red Sox to grab a pitcher on a similar contract to the one Dempster got, the reactions to the signing have still been surprisingly mixed.
Advocates point to his leadership and team-friendly nature of the contract. Detractors question his age, declining velocity and poor performance in Texas. Personally, I think they’re both wrong for reasons I’ll get into here in this post.
This is a good singing – so good in fact, that I should stop talking in generalities and jump right in!
Over the past five seasons, Dempster has been one of the most consistent middle of the rotation pitchers in baseball. Over that time, he’s logged some shockingly consistent numbers, including:
• A 3.79 SIERA
• A 3.72 xFIP
• A 3.72 ERA
• A .301 BABIP
• A 72% LOB%
• 10% HR/FB%
• At least 200 IP in all but one of those seasons
For a Red Sox team that’s been desperate for anyone to show a little consistency, it’s hard to find a middle of the rotation guy who fits that mold better than Dempster. Sure, his record over the course of last season fluctuated quite a bit, but his track record doesn’t really suggest any super-alarming red flags.
Some folks have pointed to his age, and while that’s always a legitimate reason for caution, folks need to remember that Dempster spent a lot of his career working out of the bullpen and lacks the usual wear and tear of most starters. 36 is almost certainly a regression year, but don’t expect it to be as steep as others in his peer group. While he might take a slight step back, I wouldn’t be worried about it being dramatic.
There’s no reason to think his success couldn’t translate in the AL East
Sure, in Chicago, much of his success was driven by luck. He rode the lowest BABIP of his career (.242) and enjoyed an almost ludicrous LOB% of 84%. In Texas, his luck careened in the other direction, as he posted a .330 BABIP and suffered through a measly 66.3% LOB%. His ERA ballooned from a 2.25 to 5.09 and like flies flying into the light; everyone immediately assumed it was the result of throwing in a hitter’s park against AL lineups. “He’s only an NL pitcher,” they said.
The reality is that it’s simply not true.
I’d be worried if his peripherals suggested that we should, well… worry. But they don’t. In fact, they make his fluky luck stats in Texas all the more perplexing. His LD% dipped a whopping nine points. His GB% bumped up 3%. His SIERA went DOWN from 3.84 to 3.68. His SWST%? That got better, too. His IFFB%, IFH% and BUH% all moved in the right direction, as well. Even his velocity – another area critics have pointed to as a reason for caution – WENT UP in Arlington.
So what they heck happened?
For the most part, Dempster actually performed BETTER in the American League than he did in the National League. The problem was simply home runs. While he did end up posting a gaudy 5.09 ERA in Texas, he did manage to tally a 3.85 xFIP, which really wasn’t that big of a jump from his 3.72 mark the past five seasons. A lot of his issues seem to be almost entirely related to a string of bad luck home runs that warped his overall performance.
In fact 10 of the 19 HR’s Dempster gave up last season occurred during the last 69 IP he spent with the Rangers. All but two were hit in a park not named Rangers Ballpark, Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. Only one went somewhere other that Right Field.
With a record like that, it makes me think that 380 feet to RF at Fenway should do Dempster a lot of good as it’s not only a big upgrade over the measly 325-349 feet wall in Arlington, but also a 20 foot upgrade over Wrigley Field in Chicago. It’s safe to say, even if we were to pretend the HR’s weren’t a fluke, I’d still like the fit in Fenway Park much better, as the deep RF wall should suppress any developing tendencies to give up the long ball.
Simply put, by looking at Dempster’s overall track record, there’s really no reason to think he can’t succeed here. In fact, there’s a very limited sample that suggests he might even be BETTER here. There’s also a certain Yankees player who profiles as a very similar pitcher to Dempster that everyone pointed to last year as an explosion waiting to happen, but didn’t. Good pitchers are good pitchers. Ryan Dempster is one of them. I expect him to do well here.
Consider the market
As @redsoxstats and Evan Brunell brought up last week, Anibal Sanchez and Ryan Dempster have profiled as remarkably similar pitchers over the past few years.
Granted, Sanchez is younger and is far less likely to regress. But is the difference between the two – even with regression taken into account – worth the $50 million gap over the course of the deal the Red Sox signed Dempster to and the one that landed Sanchez back in Detroit? Absolutely not.
In fact, it’s going to be pretty difficult the Red Sox to not come out ahead on the deal considering market rate for pitchers, which right now is about $5.5 million/1 fWAR. $26.5 million would suggest the Red Sox are expecting 4.8 WAR out of Dempster over the duration of the deal, which would translate into roughly two consecutive 2.5 WAR seasons. Essentially, even if Dempster declines by .5 fWAR this season, that still puts him at 2.8 fWAR for next year. A .8 drop to 2 fWAR in 2014 – which would be dramatic – would park him exactly at 4.8. Both those numbers would equate to the two worst seasons of his career as a starter. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of his years in Boston be his worst, I can’t imagine he’d post two career lows. By market measures, this is a sound deal.
He fits well with the team
All things being told, it’d have made little to no sense for the Red Sox to spend big on a starter this offseason. The long and short of the matter is that if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz can’t get a handle on things, this rotation is going to suck hard regardless of who the Red Sox bring through the door. The flip side of that is that even if either guy DOES manage to bounce back, then you’re paying for what you already have. This issue is compounded by the fact that when you consider the sheer number of talented arms right around the corner in the Red Sox farm system, it makes more sense to pay a premium on a short-term deal that lends you flexibility than it does to get one of the best pitchers in the market.
In Dempster, the Red Sox get a stable, reliable middle of the rotation piece that can actually eat innings and provide consistent results. He can provide a better example to the pitchers already in Boston and more importantly – can serve as a valued mentor for young pitchers like Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Alex Wilson and Allen Webster – all of whom may knock on the door later this season. Essentially, Dempster is everything this rotation has lacked for the past three years.
That’s not a bad thing. That, my friends… is a good thing.
Categories: Boston Red Sox