Thursday, August 27, 2009

Find a Penny, pick him up?

Rest of the season he has good luck?  It is a sobering thought to realize that a pitcher who is 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA is a sound addition to your rotation, but that is what Brad Penny would be to the Twins


There are several things to consider when reviewing Penny’s pedigree and look beyond the lopsided record and bloated ERA.  In a lot of ways, Penny is very similar in Boston as Carl Pavano was in Cleveland, his former rotation-mate while with the World Series champion Marlins.  Like Pavano, Penny is not as bad as his ERA.  It’s hard to look at a 5.61 earned run average and not be immediately turned off - after all, it is the pitching statistic equivalent of seeing Kathy Bates naked.  Nevertheless, Penny has AL’s 27th-best xFIP which shows he’s hurling better than what the yardstick of ERA explains.  While it is not elite caliber, he has pitched better than Nick Blackburn (5.07 xFIP) and this fact alone means there would be an immediate upgrade to the rotation.  


Second, Penny has been thwarted in his efforts to keep runners from circling the bases.  His left-on-base percentage of 64.4 is one of the lowest among all AL starters (well below the average of 71.9).  Part of this is his fault as he has allowed 27 of 30 potential stealers to advance a base but Jason Varitek is also the worst qualified catcher in both leagues at throwing out runners (just an 8.9 pct caught-stealing rate).  Combine that with the fact that you have made three starts against the stealth thievery squad that is the Tampa Bay lineup and it makes sense that you will find more runners in scoring position undeservedly.  Pair him with Joe Mauer and those same runners might think twice before breaking to second. 


Third, defensively, the Red Sox converted a below-league average amount of balls in play into outs.  While I noted that Pavano had the third-worst among qualified pitchers in the AL at the time of his acquisition, Penny exercises bar none the worst defensive efficiency ratio (.673) in the league.   This makes perfect sense when you consider his outfield unit in Boston.  With the exception of Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox have a fairly slow-footed assortment of outfielders that equates to a.883 revised zone rating as a group (tied with the Angels for the lowest in the league).  Penny’s 40 percent flyball rate makes him lean slightly more towards being a flyball pitcher (though he’s probably closer to neutral) and has a high-than-normal .275 batting average on his flyballs (.223 league-average) because of the coverage.  At .918 revised zone rating in the outfield, the Twins have one of the better units, particularly with Carlos Gomez and Denard Span consisting of 2/3rds of the fielders.  Provide Penny that same support and it will shave that many more hits off of his totals. 


Lastly, Penny’s control has been borderline fantastic this year.  In 131.2 innings in 2009, he’s walked just 42 (2.8 BB/9).  Part of this is that he has been fairly vigilant at throwing strikes (52.2 pct zone presence) and working ahead of the hitters (60.5 pct first-pitch strikes).  This is an attribute that plays well within the Twins program: Throw strikes and let your fielders do the work.


Of course, this isn’t like someone just walked away from a BMW with the keys left in it.  Penny has plenty of dings that cannot be as easily buffed out with advanced statistics.  Since the all-star break, opponents have slugged .548 off of him along with seven home runs in seven games, not to mention 50 hits in 38 innings pitched leading to a beautiful disaster WHIP of 1.657.  Even with this foreknowledge of multiple hit potential and the necessary $1.1 to $1.4 million expense it cost to enlist his services for the remainder of the season, Penny would be worth every (corny pun redacted).  Face it, with a small glimmer of hope that exists for the Twins with the final month encroaching, no matter how talented they may be, the division will not be won on the backs of Armando Gabino or Jeffrey Manship.