Monday, December 11, 2006

Should Penny Be Flipped?

"Is it just me or is it fat in here?"

With the Dodgers' acquisition of Jason Schmidt, there has been speculation that Brad Penny could be the centerpiece in a trade for a power hitter. If Penny is moved, the starting rotation could look like:

  • Derek Lowe
  • Jason Schmidt
  • Randy Wolf
  • Chad Billingsley
  • Hong-Chih Kuo

While few Dodger fans would miss Penny's poor conditioning and bad attitude, at 28 he nonetheless represents a significant insurance policy for a starting rotation with a second-year pitcher who previously missed time due to injury (Billingsley) and two other pitchers (Wolf, Kuo) sharing between them a combined three Tommy John surgeries.

To frame the durability of the starting rotation in terms of innings pitched, consider what Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated calls the "Year-After Effect" (YAE):

I've been tracking the YAE for about a decade now. It's based on a general rule of thumb among executives and pitching coaches: young pitchers should not have their innings workload increased by more than 25 or 30 innings per year. It's the same principle as training for a marathon; you get to 26.1 miles incrementally, not by jumping directly from a 10K. The body cannot easily withstand being pushed so far behind its previous capacity for work, at least not without consequences. Typically, those consequences occur the next season, not the year in which the body is pushed.

Of the Dodgers' eight current potential starters, only Lowe, Schmidt and Penny can be reasonably projected to effectively consume major innings in 2007:

starting pitcher 2006 IP age as of 4/07
Derek Lowe 218.0 33
Jason Schmidt 213.1 34
Brad Penny 189.0 28
Mark Hendrickson 164.2 32
Brett Tomko 112.1 34
Chad Billingsley 90.0 22
Hong-Chih Kuo 59.2 25
Randy Wolf 56.2 30

Counting on a total of 180 to 200 IP from an experienced starter creates an aggregate expectation of 900 to 1,000 IP from the starting five. Assuming 120 IP for Wolf (an conservative estimate based on a successful second year of recovery from elbow surgery) and applying Verducci's YAE formula to Billingsley (120 IP) and Kuo (90 IP), a Penny-less starting rotation would run a deficit of 210 to 270 innings.

Who would compensate for these lost innings? Tomko and Hendrickson, former starters who ended up in relief roles by last season's end, would presumably be available for spot starts. Conversely, either pitcher could be slotted into the starting rotation with Kuo available as a backup starter. In either case, trading Penny would reduce the likelihood of trading Tomko or Hendrickson.

The remaining innings would have to be shouldered by middle relievers. And only competent early-inning relief pitching can preserve the effectiveness of Joe Beimel in the seventh inning, Jonathan Broxton in the eighth and Takashi Saito in the ninth.

If Ned Colletti trades Penny, look for him to retain Tomko and/or Hendrickson and possibly deal for more middle relief help. If Penny is retained, the team's lack of a true power hitter will be partially offset by a more reliable starting rotation.


Steve Sax said...

It may be too much to ask Wolf, Kuo, and Billingsley to pick up the slack if Penny is traded. But on the flipside, it's just as likely that we keep Penny, only to see him suck as bad as he did in the second half of 2006, when he basically self-imploded on the mound each outing.

I'd take Kuo over a cremated Penny.

Or to put it another way, a Penny saved could be a Penny urned.

Thank you Cleveland! Good night!

Orel said...

Hey, I already made an urn joke.

Steve Sax said...

Well, one good urn joke deserves another.

Thank you Detroit! Good night!

Orel said...

Do I get an assist for that?

Steve Sax said...

Sorry, Orel, you have to urn your assists here at SoSG.

Thank you Milwaukee! Good night!

Orel said...

I think this horse is dead.

Steve Sax said...

That's good, since I'm out of Midwest cities.

Or should I say, MidwestURN cities?!

Thsnk you Cincinnati! Good night!

Orel said...

(sound of crickets)