When the Boston Red Sox spent $26.5 million to bring in free agent pitcher Ryan Dempster over the winter, the doubters showed up in droves. “His ERA is too high”, they said. “He can’t pitch in the American League”. “He’s too old to make an impact”.
The criticism has come almost solely from his stat-line with the Texas Rangers after being acquired in a trade last July. 2012 marked the first time in Dempster’s 15-year career that he pitched for an AL team.
Dempster posted a 7-3 record with the Rangers, but his 5.09 ERA in 12 starts is what got the most attention. That along with the fact that he faltered down the stretch, with Texas losing three of his final four starts as they headed into to the postseason. His ERA ballooned to 7.71 in those four games.
Those statistics don’t tell the whole story, though. While it’s true that Dempster did get hit hard at times, he still managed to allow two or fewer earned runs in seven of his 12 starts with Texas. He had at least six strikeouts in each of those contests. Only 20 other pitchers in the AL had as many six-strikeout starts while giving up fewer than two earned runs. But they had the entire season to do it. Dempster had just 12 games.
Even at 36-years old, this guy can still pitch. He may be inconsistent at times, and he gives up some home runs, but he’s not being asked to be the Red Sox ace. As a number-three pitcher behind Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, Dempster has the chance to excel in Boston. The offense behind him won’t be quite as good as it was in Texas, but it will be considerably better than what the Chicago Cubs gave him in the first half last year.
It’s often stated that good starting pitching in MLB is at a premium, so it’s tough to criticize the Red Sox for going out and getting a guy that will be a solid addition to their rotation. In an off-season full of questionable signings by Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, the Dempster deal is, without a doubt, the one that makes the most sense.