Monday, August 31, 2009

A Penny Saved Is 1 Too Many

Reading fangraphs usually produces a catharsis from bad baseball reporting such that no writing occurs on this blog. You can therefore imagine my horror the morning of August 27th when over my cup of coffee I clicked to fangraphs only to discover an abortion of a post ripping the Red Sox for releasing Bradley Wayne Penny. The jist here is that the Red Sox overreacted to a recent stretch of bad pitching and made a quick hook, overall Penny has been unlucky on balls in play and "ZIPS projects a 4.44 FIP from Penny going forward" so they should have held onto him.

First of all, the Red Sox front office does not do anything hastily, if anything their thoughtfulness usually results in hanging on too long (and sometimes way too freaking long) based on past success. And secondably, I am having some difficulty locating this "recent poor stretch of results", not because Penny hasn't been terrible lately (he has, with a 5.93 era in July and a 8.31 eyesore in August), but because he really hasn't been good at any time this year to start with. His one "good" stretch in June consisted of him facing 3 NL East teams and not throwing a single pitch in the 7th (now I'll admit his 6 shutout innings against the Yankees was notable even in 55 degree weather, but that being his one scoreless start of the year kind of makes this a total outlier. additionally one must remember that I jinxed this game by betting my entire centsports balance against Penny).

Let's also look at another measure of luck beyond simply webthumbing to FIP and calling it a day, that being situational pitching stats. The relevant (available) split is OPS with bases empty/runners on/runners in scoring position. Penny this year is sporting a quite remarkable .888/.771/.681, lopping 200 points of OPS off the opposition whenever he feels like it, evidently. A little research reveals that he has been up to this trick before. My common sense alarm screams that Penny is pretty crappy and really lucky, but my scientific sense wonders whether he actually has this certain ability to up his game in tight spots. If this clutch ability is really possible (and any list that labels Jeff Suppan as clutch and Johan Santana as not, as the leverage index suggests, is probably suspect), then pitchers should be able to demonstrate the same ability year after year.

So are those clutch pitchers from 2005-2007 still being clutch this year (and yes obviously I find it funny that 9 of the 10 unclutch starters are currently playing while only half of the clutch ones are still in the majors despite the un-clutch group averaging an older age at 32 to 35 or 32.5 without Moyer and Wakefield)? Penny certainly is, as illustrated above, Jake Peavy shows a strong reverse split (.603/.734/.941) as does Chris Carpenter (.539/.646/.674), Jeff Suppan is still better from the stretch (.984/.813/.877), and Jason Marquis shows no split (.684/.694/.754). Johan Santana, meanwhile, is now clutch (.752/.592/.566). From this sample it appears, as David Appelman and many others have already reported, there isn't any such thing as clutch pitching.

That's a nice tight conclusion, but the cynic in me wonders if something else is going on here. Penny clearly shouldn't be able to suddenly pitch better than 100%, but what if the rest of the time he's only giving 80%? After all, one has to be pretty lazy to go from this to this while being paid tens of millions to perform physically, so perhaps Penny just doesn't care until runners get close to scoring? I can't think of any easy way to test this, so I am just going to have to assume it's right. In my defense, I wouldn't exactly be the first one to question Penny's work ethic.

In short, Brad Penny is neither unlucky this year or "quality major league pitcher." If he's been unlucky on balls in play, he has made up for it with lucky "clutch" pitching. He's earned his 5.61 this year just like he earned his 6.28 last year. The best things I can say about him is that he doesn't walk too many, and he might actually try when there's a runner on third... have at him MLB!



Blogger Ben said...

we should turn this blog into a "funny pictures of baseball players" blog

3:25 PM  
Blogger David Y said...

Those Lugo ones were pretty great.

8:35 AM  

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