At first glance, 7.5 million (plus 1.5 million in incentives) seems like a little bit much for Penny. He’s a pretty good pitcher, and coming off of a 173 inning, 4.45 FIP season for the Red Sox and Giants last year. According to FanGraphs’ estimates, that was good for a 2.5 WAR season, or about the production you would expect from a free agent signed to a 1 year 11 million dollar deal. However, he also spent much of 2008 on the DL, and was ineffective when pitching.
In 2009, he worked primarily with the fastball, throwing it over 70% of the time. His average velocity was 94 MPH, which is excellent and actually higher than in his glory days with the Dodgers.
He pounded the zone with it, throwing over nearly 53% of his pitches in the strike zone, compared to a league average of 49%, and, as you can see, he generally stayed away from hitters, throwing just 33% of his pitches in the inner half the batter zone compared to a league average of 41%.
While that should allow him to avoid the long ball more than guys who challenge hitters inside, it will also allow hitters more time to react to the ball and make contact with it. His swinging strike rate last year on the fastball was below the league average rate, and well below the average for pitchers who throw as hard as he does.
Presumably, the Cardinals pitching coach, Dave Duncan, will encourage Penny to continue to employ this approach as it feeds into his mantra of lots of contact and few home runs.
Anyway, Sean Smith‘s CHONE projections have Penny putting up a 4.13 ERA in 159 innings. Given that, his rejuvenated velocity on his fastball, and his solid performance last year, the deal actually looks pretty good. 1 year minimizes the risk, and given Penny’s past history, there is potentially a lot of reward.