As sports fans, we tend to gravitate towards the aesthetically pleasing plays and players. There's a reason that Sportscenter is filled with long home runs, web gems, ridiculous dunks and great touchdown catches. It's the same reason the NHL added the shootout. It's just plain fun to watch. Flashy players who may not always show up on a consistent basis will always steal the headlines because of the potential that they'll do something that we've never seen, something that will drop our jaws. Think of Yasiel Puig. The chances he keeps up what he's doing are nonexistent, but it's been riveting to watch and almost impossible not to enjoy. Because of this, though, some more stable, consistent players can fly a bit under-the-radar in the fans' eyes. Ryan Dempster has fit this model for much of his career.
Coming into the season, Dempster was pegged as the team's number-three starter, behind Lester and Buchholz but ahead of Lackey and Doubront. He's the middle-man of the rotation, not expected to be great, but expected to give solid starts every time out. He has had no problem living up to these expectations in 2013, with a 4.23 ERA and 4.84 FIP. His strikeouts have actually been higher than they have been in the past, but he's also increased the number of walks and home runs he's allowed. For a 36 year old who spent his entire career in the National League until last year's trade deadline, more walks and home runs isn't too shocking. Still, he has an ERA+ of 101 and has thrown 89-1/3 innings in 15 starts, good for six innings per start.
None of these numbers are overly flashy, but he fills his role perfectly and gives the team a stability that it desperately needs in the rotation. Clay Buchholz has been fantastic this year, but he's also fought injuries all season, and it wouldn't shock anybody if he ended up on the shelf for six weeks at some point this season. Jon Lester showed early this season that he could still be the high-quality arm we all expected him to be, but lately he's also shown he can also be the frustrating guy we saw last season. John Lackey has surprised everyone this season, and continued that last night, but it's not crazy to think he'll fall back to Earth at some point this season. Felix Doubront is also coming off a great start, and he's shown flashes, but efficiency and consistency are still a big problem for the 25-year old.
Photo credit: Jim Rogash
This is where Dempster fits in perfectly. He went through a rough stretch in the middle of May, but other than that he's been exactly what we expected him to be. The bullpen has been used a lot this season because of short outings or long extra-inning games, but Dempster can typically be counted on for six innings. He is a true workhorse, who has thrown at least 200 innings and started at least 31 games in all but one season since 2008, when he was converted back to the rotation after a stint as the Cubs' closer. The only season he didn't reach these totals was last year, when he still started 28 games and threw 173 innings.
It's typical for fans to put a lot of expectations on free agent acquisitions. The Red Sox handed Ryan Dempster a two-year $26.5 million contract this offseason, and fans want to be able to watch that acquisition and know they're getting their money's worth. Dempster isn't the type of pitcher who is going to give that kind of satisfaction in that way, though. He throws his fastball in the high-80s/low-90s, and doesn't have any outstanding secondary pitch. He's not likely to get himself on the That's Nasty segment on Baseball Tonight. (Is that segment still a thing? I have no idea.) Instead, he uses a mix of pitches and gets himself through the games methodically. He won't throw many shutouts or gems, but he also won't throw many duds. He'll stay in the game long enough as to not kill all the relief pitchers' arms and perform well enough to give the offense a good chance to win the game.
Right now the Red Sox have a lot to be excited about. Jose Iglesias, Daniel Nava and Mike Carp are all doing things at the plate that no honest person can say they expected before the year started. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are putting up great seasons, and Clay Buchholz is pitching like a Cy Young candidate. They are in first place in the AL East after being picked by many to finish in the bottom half of the division. Because of this, Dempster may be flying under the radar. He deserves a little recognition, though. The rotation is all over the place right now, but you can count on their number-three man coming out every five days and throwing about six innings and giving up three or four runs, doing nothing special but saving bullpen arms and keeping the game well within striking distance. It may not be the sexiest way to produce, but Ryan Dempster's stability is hugely valuable over a 162-game season, especially for this team.