Better Than Expected

Brad Penny pitches against Cincinnati, 8 April 2010 (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Although the Cardinals lost 2-1 yesterday on a Johnny Gomes HR off Jason Motte, you couldn’t help but be encouraged by how Brad Penny pitched.  That was better than expected, even allowing for the fact that Penny tends to own the Reds.  7 IP, 4K, 2BB, 1 run allowed.  Not bad.

Given all the hype about Penny trying to change his stripes under the tutelage of Dave Duncan, and the spring training stories of Penny emphasizing his sinker more this season, I thought it would be interesting to see what pitches Brad threw during the game.  Here’s the final statistics:

  • Fastball – 42 pitches
  • Change up – 29 pitches
  • Curve ball – 22 pitches (including the RBI single by Arroyo)
  • Sinker – 7 pitches
  • Swinging strikes – 8 (or 8% of his total pitches)

Not many sinkers at all, were there?  Now, in fairness, I’m using the pitch type as reported by’s Gameday application, so some of those fastballs may have been sinkers.  In fact, the first time a pitch was called a sinker was in the second inning during Drew (don’t call me Franklin) Stubbs’ second at bat, so Brad may actually have thrown some sinkers in the first inning that the MLB stringer didn’t catch.

Because Penny threw exactly 100 pitches, it makes the % breakdowns easy:  42% fastballs, 29% change ups, 22% curveballs, 7% sinkers.  Since a sinker is just a 2-seam fastball, let’s add that in to the fastball category, bringing it to 49%.  Historically, according to Fangraphs, Penny has thrown 70% fastballs, 19% curve balls, and 7.5% change ups.  One start is a very small sample size, and hard to draw any conclusions or trends from, but he did throw a LOT more change ups in yesterday’s game than he has in recent seasons.  Interesting tidbit:  2003 and 2007 were probably Penny’s best years as a starter.  In both those seasons he threw the change up about 15% of the time.

Note the number of swinging strikes.  Brad Penny, under Obi-Duncan’s tutelage, is trying to remake himself; using the sinker more will induce more ground balls and ease his transition into a pitch to contact type pitcher Duncan excels at mentoring.  However that 8% swinging strike rate (percentage taken of the total pitches thrown; if this is the wrong way to calculate swinging strike %, please let me know in the comments) is a sharp increase over his recent history.  Again according to Fangraphs, he’s averaged between 6 and 7% swinging strikes the last 5 years (with one anomaly, again 2007, where it was 7.7%).  Isn’t it funny that when he goes back to a pitching strategy that worked in the past, he actually becomes better at throwing the ball by someone?

If Brad Penny’s next 32 starts are rough approximations of this one, the Cardinals will have gotten a bargain for their $7.5 million.  I don’t expect him to carry a Gibson-esque ERA throughout 2009.  This start is encouraging, and as I said at the outset, better than expected.

So much for the easy part of the road trip.  St Louis heads to Milwaukee to face the other team most pundits think could challenge the Cardinals for the NL Central title.


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Filed under analysis, Cardinals recap, NL Central, St Louis Cardinals

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