Brad Penny has already thrown 18 innings for the Giants this season. I’m honestly not sure how that happened. It seems like one day Brad Penny was in Japan and the next day he was grooving 91 mile per hour fastballs down the middle of the plate for the Giants in early August. How did we get here? Where are we going? What the hell is going on. Weird stuff. Penny, who’s taken on the role of long-guy in the bullpen, has faced 80 major league quality batters this season; of those 80 hitters, he’s struck out only five. For you nerds, that’s a strikeouts-per-nine rate of 2.50. That’s not particularly good, but more on that later.
Here’s an even weirder thing: Last year, while pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Penny saw his K/9 rate dip to a basement level rate of 3.67. In 2011, he faced 803 batters and struck out 74 of them. Again, that’s not particularly good. Most would expect that a transition to the bullpen — a place where you can, theoretically, cut loose and throw harder — would result in a slight increase, or maybe even a modest increase, in one’s strikeout rate. Nope. Brad Penny is striking out fewer hitters this year than ever before. While pitching out of the bullpen. This leads me to believe that if you extrapolate things, in three years, Brad Penny’s strikeout rate will hover around -1.5; that’s just cold, hard mathematics.
I’m fascinated by non-strikeout pitchers for a number of reasons. First, let’s take a look at the five batters that Brad Penny has actually struck out this season.
I was expecting at least three pitchers on this list, but nope, these are all position players. Again, it’s weird. Is Brad Penny making a consensus decision to just chuck the ball down the middle of the plate and let batters swing? Yes, I think so.
Here’s a heat map of Penny’s pitch frequency inside of the strike zone versus the league average.
While both heat maps are similar, Penny’s pitch grouping is much tighter and all inside of the strike zone.
And here’s a heat map of Brad Penny’s contact rate on his pitches versus the league average.
Bat, meet ball. That’s a lot of contact. Penny has thrown 242 total pitches this year. Of those 242 pitches, 148 of them have been fastballs. Of those 148 fastballs, batters have:
* Swung at 73 of them
* Whiffed on just seven of them
* Put 47 of them into play
* Hit 10 line drives
* Hit 22 ground balls
The good news for Penny is that while he’s not particularly good any more, he, like most every non-strikeout pitcher ever, isn’t allowing walks — three walks out 80 batters faced — and he’s showing a modest ground ball rate at 50.7 percent. Those are good things for any pitcher to do, but for Penny, he’s probably the worst arm in the Giants’ bullpen this season. The fact that he can throw more than one inning at a time really isn’t of much use to the team. Penny’s leverage index of 0.74 indicates that he’s been used in mostly low-leveraged situations. That’s fine for a mop-up guy. The real crime is that after looking at the leverage rankings for the bullpen, George Kontos has leverage index of 0.24 — making him the 2nd lowest leveraged bullpen pitcher this year not named Shane Loux. Even Steve Edlefsen (0.31) got into more important game situations. Even Steve Edlefsen got into more important game situations. Even Steve Edlefsen got into more important game situations.
Yeah, might want to give Kontos some more responsibility. That’s probably a good (great) idea.