Matt Holliday has obviously been getting most of the attention from Cardinal fans this off-season, and deservedly so, but signing Brad Penny was also a significant move for John Mozeliak this off-season. Penny is expected to fill the hole in the middle of the rotation that was created when Joel Pineiro became a free agent. On the surface, it would seem like a downgrade for the Cardinals to replace a pitcher that threw 214 innings of 3.49 ERA ball for a pitcher who had a 4.88 ERA in 173.1 innings, but what Pineiro and Penny did in 2009 may not be what to expect from these hurlers in 2010.
Joel Pineiro had his “career year” in 2009 at age 31, when he went 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA in 214 innings. Pineiro started throwing a sinker, and it helped him increase his ground out to fly out ratio, decrease the number of line drives that batters hit off him, hardly ever give up home runs (.46 home runs per nine innings), and lower his walk rate to a career best 1.14 per nine innings. These are all good things for Pineiro, but it should be noted that very few pitchers in baseball can maintain consistent success when they rely on pinpoint command like Pineiro does, and because of that it’s reasonable to expect some regression in his numbers in 2010. The Chone projection system, one of the most accurate systems out there, expects Pineiro to post a 4.37 ERA in 169 innings over 28 starts, which would be 24 runs better than what a replacement level pitcher would be in the same amount of innings and starts (for an example of what a replacement level pitcher is, think Brad Thompson). So while Pineiro is still expected to be a quality pitcher in 2010, it appears unlikely that Joel will duplicate his stellar 2009.
Brad Penny is coming off of a very rough 2009 in which he went 11-9 with a 4.88 ERA in 173.1 innings. Most of Penny’s peripheral statistics fit in line with his career averages, but Penny suffered from gopher-itis. Penny’s career home runs allowed per nine innings is .88, but in 2009 that number rose to 1.14. Chone expects Penny’s home run rate to return to his career levels in 2010, calling for him to have a 4.13 ERA in 159 innings over 27 starts. Those numbers would make Penny 22 runs above replacement, which is two runs below what Pineiro is expected to post but in ten less innings, so basically Chone thinks Pineiro and Penny will provide equal value in 2010.
Just because Chone projects Penny and Pineiro to be equal in 2010 doesn’t mean that they will be, however, as Penny and Pineiro have different pitching styles. Pineiro’s success and failure relies almost entirely on the defense behind him, while Penny garners more strikeouts. Simply put, Penny’s projection is less likely to vary because he doesn’t rely on his defense as much, while Pineiro’s numbers could be much worse if he has bad luck on balls put in play. Also, Penny signed for 1/$7.5 while Pineiro might still get a multi-year deal, so contractually the scale slightly favors Penny again. Overall it appears John Mozeliak made the right call in choosing Penny over Pineiro, both statistically and financially, and Cardinal fans shouldn’t worry about seeing Joel sign with another team.