Hard trying to predict Dempster's future
November, 18, 2008
For Ryan Dempster, it's been a long, strange road to his new $52 million contract. Dempster is 31 and has pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title in only four seasons:
I'm not sure whether any other pitcher has made exactly this progression, from good starter to terrible starter to reliever to great starter. What's more, after a fine bullpen season in 2005, Dempster wasn't particularly effective as a reliever in 2006 or 2007 (if he had been, the Cubs might not have shifted him back to the rotation).
Again, Dempster turns 32 this spring, and his career record for consecutive good seasons as a starting pitcher is one. He's got two such streaks, seven years apart.
Searching for an explanation for Dempster's success in 2008, I found this Jack Curry column from this past June:
Dempster is 9-2 with a 2.63 earned run average and has been the premier starter on the best team in the major leagues. He is especially formidable at cozy Wrigley Field, where he is 9-0 with a 2.71. Manager Lou Piniella linked some of Dempster's success to his offseason preparation.
"I tell you what, he came to camp ready to fight De La Hoya for 15 rounds," said Piniella, referring to Oscar De La Hoya, the boxer. "I mean, he was in shape and he was on a mission and he's gotten off to a great start."
Since Dempster had to train his right arm to be ready to throw 100 or more pitches an outing again (he had been a starter earlier in his career), he said it was imperative to be as fit as a Navy [SEAL].
"For me, I just didn't want to come back and be a five-inning guy," Dempster said. "Not only did I come back in good shape, I did a lot of stuff with my arm. I did a lot of shoulder maintenance, stuff like that."
As a reliever, Dempster said he was constantly trying to record strikeouts. But, as a starter, he has had to remind himself that is OK if batters put the ball in play because that reduces his pitch count. Dempster said he now prefers starting because "you can pitch a little." He throws a fastball, a slider and a split-finger fastball.