What is Wrong with Ryan Dempster?

By Tony Andracki

Heading into 2011, the Chicago Cubs were looking at Ryan Dempster as the ace of their starting rotation. There was even talk of him being the new face of the franchise, though, less than a month into the season, I think we can all agree that is now Starlin Castro.

However, we are a month into the season. Meaning it’s time to start acting like it for Dempster. After another dreadful start Thursday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the worst of them yet (he lasted just 1/3 of an inning and allowed seven earned runs on four walks and four hits), Dempster’s ERA has ballooned to 9.58.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Ryan Dempster watches Pittsburgh Pirates’ Neil Walker’s grand slam sail out of the ballpark during the fifth inning of their Opening Day game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on April 1, 2011. Ronny Cedeno, Jose Tabata and Ryan Doumit all scored on the homer and the Pirates won 6-3. UPI/Brian Kersey

Yes, seriously. That is not a typo. Ryan Dempster has allowed 34 runs (33 earned) in 31 innings.

Yikes. Wowza. Damn. Jeez. Crap. Whatever saying you want to utter, go for it. It would be correct.

He hasn’t had one quality start this year. He’s given up at least four runs and nine baserunners in every outing.

What is going on??

Well, for one, Dempster is far, far more hittable this year than he has been in years past. He hasn’t allowed a batting average against above .262 since 2003, close to a decade. This year, opposing hitters are smacking the Canadian around to the tune of a .318 clip.

He’s also allowed a league-leading 9 home runs. Ouchville.

Dempster is walking people a bit too much, as his BB/9 (4.65) is also the highest it’s been since 2005, but he was only walking 3.5 hitters per nine innings heading into Thursday’s start. So, that hasn’t been the problem just by itself.

So, what is the cause of all this? Well, likely, command. It doesn’t appear that anything is wrong with his velocity (though I can’t be sure of that, of course), nor does it look like there is an injury at play.

So, Dempster’s mechanics are likely off and he’s not locating his fastball as he should, which is throwing off the rest of his repertoire. But then again, Demp’s K/9 in ’11 was right around where it was last year when he went 15-12 with a 3.85 ERA and struck out 208 batters. So, it’s probably not his stuff or his movement.

Heck, maybe there is an injury at play here. I mean, teams hide injuries all the time. But, you’d have to think that even the Cubs wouldn’t keep trotting a guy out there to start every fifth day when he’s hurt.

But then again, with 40 percent of the starting rotation already on the shelf (Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner), the Cubbies are already getting rocked on their starting staff. So, maybe Demp’s just done what he can to hide the injury because he knows how important he is to the team’s success.

I don’t know what’s going on. I wish I did. Then I could fix it.

But then again, the Cubs and Dempster must not even know what’s going on. If they did, they’d fix it.

So, it’s not good news. But, things will turn around. He’s too good of a pitcher to not pick things up a level. I just wish it happens sooner rather than later, because in a NL Central that is there to be had, there is simply no way the Cubs can fall too far out of it.

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