Spring Training Series: Up on the mound- Ryan Dempster

Every pitcher in camp for the Chicago Cubs comes with a question mark, including today’s subject Ryan Dempster. Going into the 2010 season, Dempster will be slotted into the number two slot in the starting rotation behind the Cubs Ace Carlos Zambrano. While Dempster is coming off a season with mixed results, there is reason to take an optimistic feeling going into the new year.

Last year Dempster was coming off a surprisingly amazing year. He was a starting pitcher for the first time as a member of the Cubs, after spending the previous two years as the teams closer. In 2008, Dempster was considered by most to be the teams best pitcher and earned himself the game one start in the ill fated National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I don’t need to remind you how poorly that game went. Regardless of the outcome, the Cubs had faith that Dempster would have continued success for the next few years, and re-signed him to stay with the team. This move drew mixed reactions from the fans. Some were angered by this signing because they saw Dempster as a one year wonder. Other fans were excited, because they saw the same promise that General Manager Jim Hendry saw, and thought that his 2008 performance was only the beginning of good things to come. However, things did not go well for Dempster as he struggled for half the year.

While no one likes players or fans who make excuses for poor play, in Dempster’s case there may be a valid point to be made. For over half the season, Dempster pitched with a heavy heart and a mind which had to be focused on anything but baseball. What was troubling him was his daughter’s illness, which is called DiGeorge Syndrome. I could not begin to imagine how hard of a time Dempster had playing a game while his mind was elsewhere. Fans, not knowing of his troubles at home right away, began to grumble about re-signing Dempster because his performance was far and away from what was expected. Thankfully for Dempster, and his daughter, this story has a happy ending which may give credibility to the excuses for Dempster’s poor start to the 2009 season.

Just after the midway point of the season, Dempster received encouraging news regarding his daughter, and learned that she was on the road to recovery. Around the same time that he learned of this, Dempster began pitching better and began looking like the pitcher we saw in 2008. His remarkable turnaround in the 2009 season, gives us hope that he will continue to pitch well in the year ahead. If he is able to continue pitching as he did in 2008, and the tail end of 2009, our pitching staff looks a lot better than was originally thought at the start of Spring Training. That being said, his struggles of last season must give you at least a little cause of concern. There is some good news though in terms of his Spring Training statistics; so far in camp Dempster has been putting up some very impressive and solid outings. Granted, this is still Spring Training so stats font mean much; however, if he was pitching poorly fans would be all over him. His mental block, though, is just one theory one what could have hurt his ability to come through for the Cubs for the entire season.

Going into 2010, Dempster will have to prove that he is the pitcher the Cubs signed, and continue to have success. What we should be able to expect from Dempster in the upcoming season remains to be questionable. You could say that he caught batters by surprise in 2008, and they adjusted to him in 2009 which caused the dip in his performance. If that was the case, then he made the proper adjustments to finish the year and get back on track. Expect the hitters to adjust again to Dempster’s pitching for the upcoming season. Hopefully this time around, Dempster doesn’t take as long to make any needed corrections.

Predicition time for the Clowned Prince of the Cubs. Dempster has the capability of winning close to 16 games, but may have to settle for around 14 to go with around 10 losses. While that isn’t a record you would like to see from your number two starter, that would be fine for your third pitcher in the rotation, which is exactly where He would be if Ted Lilly wasn’t going to miss the start of the season. I would imagine his ERA would be somewhere in the mid threes. Not great stats, but they are acceptable. If you combine those wins with the ones I predicted for Zambrano, you could have close to 30 wins coming out of your top two pitchers. While that is not a bad total, that is a lot better than what you got out of last years top two in the rotation. If they both reach the maximum number of predicted wins, you would be in the mid 30s, which would be outstanding and likely give you one of the best 1-2 punches in the game.

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