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What's Wrong With Brad Penny?

Last night seemed like a winnable game, but absolutely nothing seemed to go the Dodgers way. The actions of the umpiring crew are what take center stage. In the fourth, Tim Guccione ejected Julio Lugo despite the fact that he wasn't even watching the play. As Vinny said, it was clear that Lugo was just frustrated he made an out, Guccione saw a helmet on the ground, and then tossed him. One inning later, Brad Penny and Grady Little were ejected, which Eric Enders describes far better than I ever could.

The Times this morning doesn't even really try to explain things. I'll give it my best shot.

The first visit was medical. I think we've cleared that up beyond doubt.

The second visit was a regular visit, the first one of the inning. According to Penny, it was interrupted when home plate umpire Rick Reed overheard Russell Martin and Jeff Kent discussing the strike zone among themselves, and Reed proceeded to shout an expletive at Kent. This is when Little turned and left the mound, walking toward home plate to respond to Reed. Once his cleats left the dirt of the mound and touched the grass, however, his mound visit was officially over. Vinny read his lips at this point: "I'm just trying to protect my pitcher. You got a problem with that?"

Grady returns to mound from arguing with Reed. This is visit #2 in the inning and Bochy successfully argues that Penny must be removed. This also results in the automatic ejection of Grady Little. This is an important point: Grady was not ejected for anything he said. A manager is ejected automatically when he makes two visits to the mound with the same batter at the plate. Penny would have been allowed to finish pitching to that batter. In fact, under rule 8.06 he would have been required to finish pitching to that batter, whether the Dodgers liked it or not:

"In a case where a manager has made his first trip to the mound and then returns the second time to the mound in the same inning with the same pitcher in the game and the same batter at bat, after being warned by the umpire that he cannot return to the mound, the manager shall be removed from the game and the pitcher required to pitch to the batter until he is retired or gets on base."

This rule is presumably in place to prevent a team from making two consecutive mound visits as a tactic to get more warmup time for a reliever. This is why the pitcher is required to finish pitching to the batter.

That is what happened as best I can interpret.

This umpiring foolishness did detract from the main problem of the game, another bad outing from Brad Penny, a reccuring problem since the All-Star Break.Compare Penny's pre and post All-Star stats:

Pre All Star - 2.91 ERA, 6.82 K/9, 2.93 K/BB, .583 HR/9
Post All Star - 6.36 ERA, 6.81 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 1.56 HR/9

While his walk rate has taken a minor jump, almost entirely accounted for by his lack of control last night, Penny's home run rate has made a huge leap. This isn't an entirely unexpected development. Around the All Star Break, I went searching for reasons why Aaron Sele was pitching so well. The usual indicators of luck, a low BABIP and stranding a ton of runners on base, weren't really in Sele's favor, so I had to delve deeper. I eventually found the reason: Sele lead the league in home runs/outfield fly ratio, a stat that pitchers have very little control over*. But the other thing that jumped out at me was the person who was number two in this category, Brad Penny. This jump in home run rate is simply Penny regressing to the mean. Combine this with a 25-point jump in BABIP (.292 to .317), and you have a guy who is just on a bad luck streak. On the bright side, Penny has been keeping the ball on the ground in the second half; with a 1.89 ground out to air out ratio post all-star break, versus a 1.02 ratio at the beginning of the season.

Is Penny really one of the best pitchers in the NL? No, he had luck on his side on the first half, but there's not all that much separating Pre-All Star Penny and Post All-Star Penny. Penny is what he is, not quite an ace, but still a solid number one starter.

Look on the bright side, if anyone said that the Dodgers would go 19-6 and be in first place after their massive slide, you'd take it, right? If you really think it couldn't get worse, check out what the Royals did last night. They lead 10-1 after the first and 13-9 in The ninth and they still lost. See, things could be much worse.

*Dave Studeman, "Do Players Control Batted Balls?" The Hardball Times Annual 2006