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Where is our Ace?

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Quick take from Rick Wilton the injury guru of Baseball HQ on Penny.

Brad Penny (RHP, LAD)
Penny has a history of pitching through injuries in his career. As late as 2006, Penny was striking out 7.1 batters per nine innings. A nerve problem in his pitching arm surfaced in 2006, and the K/9 rate took a dive. Last season, he was not able to throw as hard and get as much movement on his pitches. He re-invented his game some to be more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. His K/9 rate was down to 5.8, but so were his homers allowed, and his groundballs allowed were up.

Eight starts into the 2008 season and his K/9 rate is down to 4.2. That is a dangerous level. His WHIP is 1.47 and ERA 4.79. Clearly, he is not the same pitcher he was last season. The bigger concern is the fact he has recorded some horrendous starts. His latest was May 7: 4 2/3 IP, 10 H, 10 ER, 3 BB and 2 K. This is the third time this season Penny has allowed 10 hits in a start. The 10 runs in his latest start is a season and career high. Combined with his lower K/9 rate, poor starts and reports that his velocity has been off the past couple of outings, and Penny may be signaling some sort of physical ailment (the nerve problem again?) that is inflating his numbers. There is enough evidence to suggest he is pitching hurt; we just have not seen it reported yet.

How serious should we take this analysis? Doesn't he have the year of the nerve injury wrong. My recollection is that Penny suffered the nerve injury one start after we got him in the LaDuca trade in 2004. The dropping K Rate has been a concern for all Dodger fans for quite a while. It was Sept of 2007 when commentator Paul Scott and I engaged in a debate on who was the Dodger ace, Penny or Billingsley. On May 12th, we would be hard pressed to debate that either is anything close to an ace right now.