Over the last week or so, we’ve had some serious debate over the use of Ryan Dempster as the closer. I’ve argued that you can’t mess with a guy that has only blown three save opportunities, and regardless if he gives up a run or two, when leading by three or more runs, it’s still a save and a win. Regardless of whether or not you like his high socks, Ryan has gotten the job done this year, as well as last year, and has the perfect mental make up for the closer spot. I’m going to give you the numbers of past Cubs closers on playoff teams, to show how he stacks up against, Lee Smith, Mitch Williams, Rod Beck, and Joe Borowski. What you’ll see is that Ryan is not even as close to as bad as some of you would like to believe. In fact, he’s better in many categories.

First up are the total numbers for each closer for each of the playoff years (1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and hopefully 2007). Obviously, Dempster’s numbers are not complete yet (and are dated 9/17).

Pitcher GF W L S IP ERA H R ER BB SO
Lee Smith 59 9 7 33 101 3.65 98 42 41 35 86
Mitch Williams 61 4 4 36 81.2 2.76 71 27 25 52 67
Rod Beck 70 3 4 51 80.1 3.02 86 33 27 20 81
Joe Borowski 59 2 2 33 68.1 2.63 53 23 20 19 66
Ryan Dempster 54 2 6 28 61.2 4.09 50 29 28 29 52

He’s finished 54 games, with a 2 – 6 record, and 28 saves. Lou Pinella has sent him out 18 other times not in a save situation. That’s a nice enough amount of innings that can skew the numbers. What strikes me as interesting is Lee Smith’s 9-7 record. Lee was thrown out there for a ton of two, and in some cases, three inning opportunities. His ERA hit 4.41 as late as July, although ERA by many is discounted. Thus far, Ryan’s looking similiar to “Sweaty” Joe Borowski. The steady hand that has a few bumps along the course of a season, which any reliever is going to have. Since everyone thinks Ryan like to get himself into trouble right off the bat, let’s check out these fellas number facing the lead off hitter in an inning.

Pitcher AB R H BB SO BA
Lee Smith 62 3 17 5 12 .274
Mitch Williams 58 11 15 13 15 .259
Rod Beck 76 9 23 3 18 .303
Joe Borowski 64 5 12 4 17 .188
Ryan Dempster 59 0 13 2 10 .220

Well looky here, only two walks and no runs facing the leadoff hitter. His hits average out to about what the others had at the same time, as do his strikeouts. Seems old Dempster is a pretty tough cookie to crack when leading off the inning. Rod Becks’ numbers look really spectacular until you see that old batting average, which I know can be construed as a silly stat, but it’s obvious guys seemed to hit the ball against “Shooter.” What’s odd, is if you check Rod’s pitch counts (about half way down the page), batters knocked the snot out of the ball in pitcher’s counts, he was more effective in hitter’s counts. Ryan’s actually wicked in every count except, the first pitch, 0-1, 1-1, and 2-1. Batters never hit higher than .235 (2-0 count) at any other time.

Then of course, we have the bigger question. Say Mr. Dempster gets himself into trouble, how does he fare with runners in scoring position (2nd and/or 3rd). We’ll do this by how many runs the opponent is within.

  AB R H HR BB SO BA
Within 1 R 79 12 15 2 13 16 .190
Within 2 R 134 18 32 3 15 27 .239
Within 3 R 170 22 40 4 20 39 .235

Basically, the guy has given up six more runs when up by two, and four more runs when up by three. That’s with a larger number of batters faced, a larger sampling so to speak. So, to say he makes save situations closer, would probably be incorrect. He’s pretty on good no matter what the situation. As you can see, he tightens down even more the closer it gets. Lets see how he does with two outs and runners in scoring position. Although, his OBP is not so nice, .301, .318 and .318 respectively. Walks can kill you if you’re not careful.

  AB R H HR BB SO BA
2 Outs, RISP 29 6 5 0 8 6 .172

Dempster seems to tighten down when it’s really on the line. 21% of the batters he’s face have driven in a run in this situation. Not great, but in baseball anything under a one in four shot is pretty dang good in my opinion.

I think the real argument is not whether or not Dempster is a true stopper, but who is a true stopper these days? I can’t think of one closer in the National League that really scares me. Billy Wagner, or Trevor Hoffman have passed their prime. They still put up good numbers, but are they unhittable nowadays? I’m not so sure. I just don’t think the league has closers that scare the bejesus out of anyone like in the past.

You guys may all hate on Ryan, but I’m sticking with the guy. He’s proven that he’s got the mental makeup, and the cojones to go out in tight situations, over and over without blinking an eye. Does it get a little rough at times? Yeah, sure. It was in 2003 with Borowski, and look how far the Cubs got. I’d hardly say “Sweaty” Joe cost us the chance at a Division or National League Pennant. Would you?

This is not a definitive look at Dempster. I could go on for pages upon pages of stats, bore you sabermetrics, compare him to every other closer in the game, and throw up Marmol and Howry’s numbers to whet your appetite, as well. It’s more for you guys and gals to see the numbers, and to show that he’s not as bad as it some of you make him out to be. I know some will still call for his head, but hey that’s the fun of stat mongering, there’s a way to look at every stat to strengthen your position. This is mine, and Dempter’s my closer.

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Been blogging on VFTB since 2006. It's been a long silly run thus far. I still play baseball in the Chicago North Men's Senior Baseball League.