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Brad Penny Signs with Cardinals, Generates Headline Puns

The Brad Penny deal is (as of this writing, one year, $7.5 million with various performance bonuses)... fine. Typical, I'd say, both for the market and for the Cardinals, who have once more opened up a Hot Stove season by making the exact move that the inventors of the DeWallet name expected. I can only imagine it was an ugly day for Post-Dispatch comment moderators.

Penny throws a sinker, which is usually code—it says "this guy doesn't strike out as many people as you think he does." But it surprises me every time that Penny's career strikeout rate is 6.3, and his walk rate 2.9. Those numbers just don't seem right for a guy who's 6'4" and, ha, ha, 200 pounds, who has 33 Google results for his name and the phrase Country Hardball. That's, I don't know, a good Sidney Ponson? A better Jason Marquis? I can't tie the guy who reared back in the first inning of that all-star game and threw fastballs past Ichiro to the guy whose strikeout rate last year was lower than Doug Davis's.  

Penny has always been more exciting than his peripherals, and according to Fangraphs his stuff hasn't yet taken a hit; his fastball still averages 94 miles per hour, and he still throws it 71% of the time, more often than any starter older than 25. Then, of course, there is the lens through which we must view all Cardinals pitching transactions at this point: It's a Dave Duncan move, and that fastball is a sinker.

I like Penny, though; he's been about average four years out of the last five, and he does it not with junk but with top-prospect-emeritus stuff. Now, for a game of Pitcher A/Pitcher B: Pitcher A and Pitcher B were both born in 1978; both of them are right-handed; both of them have done this for the last five years:

155 136 44 51 4.52 815.2 904 410 93 230 501 97 1.0 2.5 5.5
145 142 56 40 4.25 840.1 893 397 80 261 565 103 0.9 2.8 6.1

Pitcher A, of course, is Kyle Lohse; Pitcher B, the man of the hour. Not that I needed to make you feel worse about that contract. Penny has a fragile reputation, and every twinge and ache from a pitcher with great stuff seems a thousand times worse than anything that happens to a finesse guy, but he's made 29, 33, 33, 17, and 30 starts since joining the Dodgers. (The Duncan Magic will need to be worked on his innings pitched per start, which is under six and has been for his entire career. He doesn't strike anybody out, and he doesn't walk a lot of batters, but somehow, maybe while none of us is looking, he is throwing a ton of pitches.)

The exciting thing, for devoted Holliday-watchers, is that the Cardinals are paying a premium for Penny's 2010 so that they don't have to pay for his 2011. There's plenty of money for Matt Holliday this year; it's the six years after that that are looking stickier by the day. Penny's not an innings eater, but he's a start eater, and the rotation needed to be fixed no matter what happens with Matt Holliday.

Signing Brad Penny for one year is buying time—it gives Lance Lynn and the pitchers behind him one more year to enable the Cardinals to pinch pennies at the back of the rotation. It's the least intrusive way to acknowledge that the Cardinals don't have enough in-house options to fill the rotation this year.