Ryan Dempster received a 3-year contract for $15.5 million from the Cubs mostly due to his work in relief this season. I understand he seems to have done a good job out of the pen for a Chicago team that can never seem to find a consistently good relief core, but tossing a little over $5 million per year at Dempster seems...hasty might be the word I am searching for. Powered by Mark Lanegan, let's take a look at Dempster's figures for the year, as a starter, and as a reliever all separately (and yes, I did just steal a Will Carroll line since I'm writing a Cubs' article, so there).
From his 2002-2004 numbers, as well as his time starting in 2005, we can see that Dempster really just is not cut out for that position. His numbers in relief definitely show more promise, although I see a problem of sorts. His Batting Average on Balls in Play is well below the league average; when it regresses to the mean it is going to put a damper on these sub 2.00 ERA's from the pen. His walk rate is still much, much too high, especially for a reliever often thrown into the middle of situations with runnners on base. 4.17 BB/9 is the best mark out of the numbers out of there, but that only works in a relative sense. Also, Dempster's homerun rate seems to have fallen dramatically from the last few seasons. If he does happen to start serving up the long ball again, then I am 150% sure we will see the Cubs shopping Dempster next July when he has one strong week in the middle of the season.
I understand why the signing was done, but it seems like they gave Dempster well above what they could have. If this is a preview of the market for relievers this winter, I am not too sure I want to be covering that part of the free agent spectrum. At this rate, Billy Wagner will make $27 million per season, and I sure as hell do not want to see him and Mariano Rivera pairing up in New York for that price.
Of course, if Dempster has learned to cut down his homerun rate (after all, he gave up 3 in his first 6 starts, and only 1 the rest of the way out of the pen) his walks will not hurt him as much. One number I did not show, that could bode extremely well or bad for Dempster in the future, is his Groundball to Flyball ratio. This year it stands at 2.69 (an exceptionally high number; Derek Lowe, an extreme groundball pitcher, is at 2.92 this year), but his career rate including 2005's numbers is only 1.26. Last year was 1.88, which was the highest mark of his career up to that point. My point? If Dempster is walking batters but then forcing them into double plays (and not giving up homeruns with men on base) he can most likely remain an effective reliever, although I would still prefer if he could cut down on his walks a little. He has a high strikeout rate and a high G/F, with little to no homeruns allowed. Those are a lot of positives, and the Cubs are banking on them to continue for the next three seasons. If they do not continue...well, I know a $5 million reliever you can have for one of your top prospects. Thank Chuck LaMar for that.