A penny for your thoughts. A penny saved is a penny earned. Dave Duncan is a magician.
In Brad Penny's Cardinals debut he went seven innings allowing only one earned run on six hits. He collected four strikeouts and two walks. His second start of the season was even better. Penny again went seven innings and struck out four, but only allowed three hits, zero earned runs and did not walk a batter.
Is this the start of another magical Dave Duncan project? There are some signs, aside from the ERA, that say it may be so.
In his first two starts of the season, Penny has generated 24 ground balls to only ten fly balls and six line drives. That's a ground ball rate of 60 percent. This coming from a pitcher with a career ground ball rate of 45.5 percent.
Pitching for the Cardinals in 2008, Joel Pineiro made 25 starts and posted a ground ball rate of 48.5 percent. That offseason and during spring training of 2009, Dave Duncan worked with Piniero on turning his fastball, which Pineiro had used 58.4 percent of the time in 2008, into a sinking fastball.
The results were, well, magical.
Pineiro used that sinker 71 percent of the time last season. As a result he posted a 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and increased his ground ball rate to over 60 percent.
Could we be looking at similar results from Brad Penny this season?
Penny has always relied heavily on his fastball throwing it over 70 percent of the time for his career. However, things have started out a bit differently in 2010. Penny is now throwing, you guessed it, a sinker! Depending on the pitch f/x data you are looking at this new pitch may also be classified as a two-seam fastball.
This pitch has a ton of movement, both horizontally and vertically and Penny seems to be able to throw it with similar velocity to his four-seam fastball. Below is the pitch f/x chart of Penny's last start from brooksbaseball.net. The "pitch visualization" chart is a view from above as if we were looking directly between the pitcher and catcher from a blimp.
|Pitch Type||Avg Speed||Max Speed||Avg H-Break||Avg V-Break||Count||Strikes / %||Swinging Strikes / %||Nibbleness||Time to Plate|
|FF(FourSeam Fastball)||94.30||96.1||-6.58||13.23||39||29 / 74.36%||0 / 0.00%||5.30||0.402|
|SI (Sinker)||93.83||95.7||-10.22||11.67||14||8 / 57.14%||1 / 7.14%||6.26||0.406|
|CH(Changeup)||89.21||90||-9.40||6.20||17||14 / 82.35%||3 / 17.65%||5.42||0.425|
|CU(Curveball)||79.05||80.5||2.06||-5.10||17||11 / 64.71%||1 / 5.88%||7.08||0.481|
Penny is quickly becoming a trendy add for fantasy teams. Bear in mind, however, that two starts is a very small sample size, especially when one team is the Astros, who are currently rolling out Pedro Feliz as their three hitter. Also, Penny is not a big strikeout guy. His career 6.28 K/9 is below average, so there is still risk involved, as there is with any low strikeout pitcher.
Clearly the addition of a sinker or two-seam fastball has brought forth very positive results early on for Penny. If he can maintain a high ground ball rate and continue to pound the strike-zone, as he has done most of his career, we could be seeing many more positive outings as the season moves along.
An English teacher of mine once told me to never use clichés when writing essays. While that may be good advice for those students looking to add an English degree to their résumé, adding the new Dave Duncan project to your fantasy team is simply a good idea, even if it is a bit cliché.