For perhaps the 5th or 6th straight time, Ryan Dempster made his final start as a Cub on Wednesday. Dempster has been rumored to be going to several different teams as the Cubs are in obvious sell mode. In fact, earlier this week it appeared that Dempster would be headed to Atlanta but Dempster ended up using his no trade clause to shut down the deal. So I watched his quality start (6 innings, 3 runs allowed) against the Pirates to get a better view of Dempster.
He started the game throwing just 87-88 MPH early but got up to 90-91 MPH and that is where he sat most of the time. He touched 92 MPH a couple of times (Brooks Baseball had his fastest pitch at 91.7 MPH). Despite the below average velocity, he got whiffs on pitches right down the middle. The delivery and little glove flutter (I am not sure what else to call it) gives him some deception. This was evidenced by Dempster getting Andrew McCutchen to swing and miss on a high fastball at 90 MPH and then another one down the middle. He struck out McCutchen on a 90 MPH moving fastball that broke in towards his kneecap. The velocity charts also showed that the 2-seamer and 4-seamer are the same velocity, so this is nothing unusual. The 2-seamers breaks consistently to the right batters box with a bit of downward movement. The Pirates don’t have a great lineup, but he got a lot of whiffs in the middle of the plate with the straight fastball, especially to right-handers. Over the years, Dempster has been steadily losing velocity, as one would expect a pitcher on the wrong side of 30:
Dempster’s main secondary pitch was a 85-86 MPH slider that almost breaks like a splitter at times. As the velocity makes obvious, it is more about the break than the speed differential. As one would expect, it isn’t as good when he keeps it up, but it did a lot. He got away with it to the first hitter but gave up a homer to Neil Walker (who has become one of my favorite players to watch this year, good bat, good glove at 2nd) on one that stayed up. He needs to keep it low, but did get a couple weak infield pop-ups when it stayed high. Dempster was throwing it a ton, especially to lefties. One actually broke like a changeup, it is sort of a weird pitch as far as movement goes (it is pretty inconsistent, especially for a feature pitch for a good veteran starter). Against righties, he threw a bunch of fastballs (Pedro Alvarez was an exception, as the lefty saw 3 straight high fastballs and swung through all of them). Dempster was basically a two pitch pitcher early on, but it works for him.
He threw a few actual splitters as well, especially as the game went along. He threw a couple in the first two innings but started to really mix it in during the 4th inning, getting a couple whiffs and a strikeout with it. You can also see how this pitch gets him a lot of ground-balls. He had some real problems getting it down though and it hurt him in this start. When he did get it down, it was a really good pitch, getting swings and misses on it. It averaged 80.5 MPH, got up to 82.1 MPH and got as low as 79 MPH.
He has a good ground-ball rate, even though his speciality on Wednesday was the whiff and the weak pop fly. He has seen his swinging strike percentage go down over the last two years but has also seen batters swing at pitches outside the zone more often. This could be how he keeps his good ground-ball rate, as hitters are just making weak contact instead of striking out as much. His expected OPS (using league average OPS on GB/FB/LD/K/BB) is .739 just about league average for starting pitchers. Every FIP – since 2006 has been better than league average for Dempster. So what you are getting is a slightly above average to average starting pitcher.
In many ways, Dempster is a model of consistency. Here are his SIERAs since 2008: 3.81, 3.85, 3.73. 3.79, 3.92. He has thrown over 200 innings every year in that time (besides this year obviously, and it looks like he won’t reach that this year). Even his release point is amazingly consistent:
Dempster was one of my pitchers to watch to begin the year, and he hasn’t been a disappointment. Whether Dempster decides to waive his no-trade clause to join another team is up to him. His contract gives him that right. If he does, hopefully this article will provide his new fans some perspective as to what kind of pitcher Dempster is. If not, then the same thing applies in the off-season, as Dempster will be a free agent.