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Come To Think Of It: Expected Regression Of Ryan Dempster Is Underway

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer IApril 29, 2009

MESA, AZ - MARCH 06:  Ryan Dempster #46 of the Chicago Cubs pitches during a Spring Training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at HoHoKam Park on March 6, 2009 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

When Chicago Cubs starter Ryan Dempster was signed to that big free agent contract this offseason, I reacted with a bit of trepidation.

After all, he was coming off a season which seemed like a clear deviation from his previous work.

Dempster went 17-6 with a sparkling 2.96 ERA, after coming into camp in the best shape of his life.

Compare that against his career ERA, which is 4.56 even after his career year, and it's easy to see why his signing was a risky proposition for the Cubs.

True, much of his career had been spent in the bullpen. But, except for 2000 when he went 14-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Florida Marlins, Demp had his struggles as a starting pitcher in the past.

In 2001, he won 15 games, but really, wins are a poor barometer of a pitcher's effectiveness. That's because the won-loss record is somewhat out of his control, as it depends on run support and defense.

The near 5 ERA he posted that year is more indicative of the way he pitched. He allowed more hits than innings pitched.

Dempster started 15 games for Cincinnati in 2002 and posted a 6.19 ERA.

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So far in 2009, he is pitching more to his career average as opposed to his 2008 aberration. He went into Wednesday's game with a 4.99 ERA in four starts, then proceeded to surrender three runs in the first inning.

That's a tough hole to be in, especially with automatic outs such as Derrek Lee, Geo Soto, and Aaron Miles in your lineup, and a number three batter hitting a buck.

Look, it doesn't take a statistical genius to understand that a regression was in order for Ryan Dempster this season. That's not to say he won't pitch effectively at times, but his days of sub-3 ERAs are likely over.

But with the fragile nature of Rich Harden, and an unproven fifth starter in Sean Marshall, the Cubs needed someone for the rotation, though perhaps a Derek Lowe would have been a better choice. He's older but his postseason work has been very solid.

Nothing I'm writing here is hindsight. I've been writing about this all winter. And it's nothing personal; Demp seems like a great guy and a hard worker.

But if I'm Jim Hendry, I'm on the lookout for another starter to offset this kind of thing. I recognize he probably won't have a big budget from which to draw from, yet I still believe we will need some help in both the rotation and the bullpen.

Meanwhile, perhaps I'll be proven wrong and Dempster will rebound from a slow start and have another great season.

I mean, lightening can strike twice, come to think of it.

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