December 16, 2012

Another Canadian joins the Red Sox

(Greg M. Cooper / USA TODAY Sports)
British Columbia native Ryan Dempster has been signed by the Red Sox for the next two seasons. Dempster will join a long list of Canadians who have been part of the Crimson Hose in recent memory.  These include Jason Bay, Matt Stairs, Eric Gagne, George Kottaras, Adam Stern, Mike Gardiner, Erik Bedard and Chris Reitsma who was drafted in the 1st round but never played home games at Fenway.

Being Canadian myself, I usually want the Red Sox to acquire as many Canucks as possible. However, I was less then overly enthusiastic when I heard Dempster's name linked to the Red Sox.  With other free agent starting pitchers available, I did not think he was the best choice. What I knew about him, was that he has played most of his career in the National League and that his brief stint in Texas last year resulted in an ERA north of 5. And not being a fastball pitcher, we all know that when pitchers move from the NL to the AL, they get exposed as they can't dominate our hitters like they could in the National League.  Oh year, he's not getting any younger.  Sigh.  But thanks to the good folks at the Sons of Sam Horn, a bunch of very positive points have emerged about this signing:

Take a look at the 2 lines of nearly identical stats below over the past 3 seasons:.

Pitcher A 587  IP, 3.63 xFIP, 3.67 SIERA, 19.5 LD%, 45.3 GB%, 35.2 FB%, 21.1 K%, 7.3 BB%
Pitcher B 590.2 IP, 3.74 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA, 19 LD%, 45.1 GB%, 35.9 FB%, 21.9 K%, 8.7 BB%

Which pitcher is better? Tough to say, but Pitcher A cost $80 Million and Pitcher B is Dempster.  I do realize that Anibal Sanchez's contract was for five years, but I still don't see a difference of over $50 million.

Another guy I thought we could have pursued was Shaun Marcum. I thought he showed some good promise when he was with the Blue Jays, he pitched well in the AL East and I was looking forward to getting him under the radar.
Until it was pointed out that he has been trending in the wrong direction over the last 3 seasons:
2010 3.62 SIERA, 18.3% LD
2011 3.91 SIERA  20.0% LD
2012 4.02 SIERA  23.1% LD
Ouch.  Bullet dodged.

And what about the whole NL pitchers without a plus fastball can't survive in the AL East business?  Well, as much as we all may think this is true, due to a few notable failures, it is probably just a case of confirmation bias. There have been just as many pitchers who have thrived when switching leagues. Just last year we had Hiroki Kuroda going from pitcher paradise Dodger Stadium, to that little bandbox where New York plays its home games, and had the best season of his career. At age 37.
But we have the evidence of  Dempster's 2012 season to show that playing in the AL negatively affected him, don't we?  How else do you explain his jump from a 2.25 ERA with the Cubs jumping to 5.09 in Texas? VERY EASILY:  He had a BABIP of .255 with Chicago, and then it jumped to .330 in Texas.  Do you know what causes changes in BABIP?  Luck, and to some extent defense. The extremely low BABIP in Chicago was unsustainable over the long term, and I don't expect him to duplicate that. But he also shouldn't have a BABIP of over .300.  What is more relevant, is that last season he had the lowest walk ratio of his career, and his strikeout ratio with Texas was also the best of his career.  These are relevant numbers which are trending in the right direction. W/L, ERA and hits allowed are much more a function of factors pitchers have little control of.

Lastly, ever since he became a full time starter five years ago, Dempster has very consistently been able to be an at least average level pitcher who eats a lot of innings. If Lester and Buchholz pitch like they can, having a 3rd starter that can be counted on to throw 200 innings without crapping the bed (I'm looking at you John Lackey) is very valuable, and reduces our reliance on Doubront and/or Lackey to step up.

I am now very happy that we do have another Canadian on the team. Wonder what it would take to pry Joey Votto from the Reds?  

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