EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2012

Dempster signing risky for Red Sox

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Ryan Dempster is the newest member of the Boston Red Sox starting rotation and from a pure baseball and statistical standpoint, there is not much that impresses me about this signing.

Last week, GM Ben Cherington said a pitcher’s success and limited experience in the American League has to be taken into account when examining him as a possible acquisition.

Cherington added that when a pitcher has spent limited time in the AL and also hasn’t pitched well in his limited sample size, it obviously makes the process of projecting his success with the Red Sox that much more difficult.

That said, the 35-year-old Dempster, who was introduced at a press conference at Fenway Park yesterday after signing a two-year, $26.5 million deal, has been in the majors for 15 years and has spent all but two months pitching in the National League.

His only AL experience came last year when he recorded a dismal 5.09 ERA in 12 starts for the Rangers after posting an impressive 2.25 ERA in 16 starts for the NL Chicago Cubs to start the season.

Dempster also is 11-15 with a 4.63 ERA in 50 games (35 starts) pitching against AL teams in inter-league play during his career.

He is 0-4 with a 7.62 ERA in his five career starts against the Yankees and was 0-2 with a 11.20 ERA in three starts last year against the hard-hitting Angels.

I got the chance to chat with Dempster one-on-one in early August when the Rangers visited Fenway.

I asked him about transitioning from one league to another, adding that some say a pitcher’s ERA inevitably increases by a run when he goes from the NL to AL.

“I added on about six runs,” joked Dempster, who without a doubt has a great personality. “No, I think if you just make your pitches, it doesn’t matter where you’re pitching, what league you’re pitching in. It comes down to executing pitches. The more quality pitches you can execute, the better results you’re going to have.”

Dempster isn’t going blow anyone away with his fastball, which averaged out at 89.7 mph in 2012, according to fangraphs.com. For that reason, he knows executing pitches is that much more important for him than for a fireballer such as Stephen Strasburg.

“I’ll take 88 on the corner any day of the week,” Dempster said in August. “The idea is to keep the ball out of the middle of the zone and keep it (away) from the middle of the (barrel of the) bat. The easiest way to do that is to keep the ball down in the zone, on the outsides of the plate. So therefore, command and where you put the ball is a lot more important than how hard you throw it.”

Dempster said yesterday that the obvious difference from the AL and NL is having to face the designated hitter.

“Whether people admit it or not, aside from about 10 pitchers (who hit well), there is that little bit of a break at the bottom of a (NL) lineup,” he said. “You still have to make your pitches and get outs, but I’d much rather sit there and face a pitcher than have to face a David Ortiz. That’s for sure. That’s probably the bigger test. You have to maintain your focus and once you do that, it’s just about making pitches.”

Dempster is a workhorse. Entering last year, he had thrown 200 or more innings in his four previous seasons (2008-11). He hurled 173.0 innings last year, making two trips to the DL. He suffered both an injured quad and tightness in his right lat muscle.

“Obviously, the performance between the lines is important — and probably the most important thing — and Ryan has got a history of being really effective and a really good pitcher but the consistency he has shown in terms of taking the ball every fifth day was important to us,” Cherington said.

“If we don’t have a reliable rotation, then you ... start moving guys from the bullpen or whatever,” Cherington added. “You’re inevitably weakening another area of your team.”

That said, Jon Lester pitched 205.1 innings last year but that didn’t mean hardly as much because he didn’t pitch well. His dismal 9-14 record, 4.82 ERA and 1.38 WHIP overshadowed 200-plus inning.

If I were Cherington, I would have gone a different route, targeting Anibal Sanchez (who recently re-signed with the Tigers), Hiroki Kuroda (who reportedly took a discount to return to the Yankees) or Edwin Jackson, who as of yesterday was still available.

By June or July we should have a pretty good idea on whether or not this was a smart signing. Unfortunately for you Red Sox fans, I think most of you will realize it wasn’t.