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March 25, 2016

The BP Wayback Machine

A Penny, Now, Lost

by Baseball Prospectus

The sun has finally set on Brad Penny's career. In honor of his retirement, let's take a look through old BP annual comments to see the highs and lows of the former Marlin, Dodger, Red Sock, Giant, Cardinal, Tiger, Giant again, and Marlin again.

Year Comment
2015 I assume that in 2013, his year off from baseball, Penny walked the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, solving the problems of strangers by throwing straight-as-arrow 92-mph fastballs that were impossible to miss. In 2014, however, Penny's performance was just a re-run of the old episodes we'd seen before. He posted basically the same sub-replacement numbers he did when he pitched for the Giants in 2012, the only difference being that 2014's performance came mostly as a starting pitcher. Penny can't strike out a hitter to save his life, and even on the low-K Marlins, the numbers probably aren't good enough to get another shot. Nevertheless, he does have a knack for always turning up, like a bad ... rash.
2014 [Did not make the cut.]
2013 It's hard to fathom anyone giving 34-year-old Brad Penny a look in 2013 >after he finished 2012 with a paltry 3.2 K/9 while pitching exclusively out of the bullpen.
2012 His year in Detroit wasn’t quite a Penny Dreadful, as the big right hander was healthy enough to take 31 turns, win 11 games, and never once rampaged through the streets of Victorian London wearing a bloodied leather apron aboard an undead wolf. Nonetheless his starts grew increasingly stomach-churning as the season wore on, as Penny was pasted to the tune of .341/.394/.548 in 13 second half starts, a stretch in which he walked as many batters as he whiffed. After watching him post baseball’s worst strikeout rate last season, the Tigers have no desire for a sequel, which means The Revenge of the Innings-Eating Specie will have to be marketed elsewhere. Don’t expect it to be a good read.
2011 It didn’t take long for the tell-tale signs of Duncan tutelage to start appearing in Penny’s outings: the lowered walk rate, the drastic increase in ground balls, the completely changed approach, the sub-four ERA. Duncan had Penny throwing more splitters than ever before, and the results sparkled, until Penny sprained his back and spent the remainder of the season almost, but not quite, making it back to the mound. By the time you read this, Penny will likely have sorted out his free agency destination. While it’s hard to say how much of what he learned from Duncan will travel with him and health will always be a question, an aura of upside potential, perhaps disproportionate to his actual results, lingers from his rare healthy seasons. Whichever team takes the plunge will hope that he follows in the footsteps of previous Duncan project and successful transplant Joel Pineiro.
2010 Following the timeless advice to see a Penny and pick it up, the Giants added the veteran after his Boston run had met a necessarily squalid end. Handled carefully by the Sox, he demonstrated how slender the margins can be, managing a dozen quality starts through six innings in his 24 turns (against five "disaster starts," more runs allowed than innings pitched), and not once completing seven innings or having an especially good game. With the Giants, he threw seven or more innings in five of six games against some weak lineups in increasingly meaningless contests. If he had signed anywhere but with the Cardinals (for $7.5 million), you could be dubious about his future, but the expectation is that Dave Duncan will initiate him into whatever mysteries are necessary to fool enough of the people some of the time. Otherwise, the indicators aren't good.
2009 Oh, the stupid things that come out of athletes’ mouths. When sent to the DL for the third and final time in late September, Penny told reporters that the Dodgers’ refusal to extend his contract in the spring prompted him to pitch while hurt, thus worsening his condition. Leaving aside the damage his wrong-headed machismo inflicted upon his team’s chances, we’re left to believe Penny is unfamiliar with the customs of the free-agent market and hasn’t followed the careers of A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano, hurlers who’ve made a mint despite less than perfect attendance due to medical reasons. In any event, such acute observational skills made the Dodgers’ decision to punt Penny’s $9.25 million option a no-brainer; Boston's rumored to be interested in bringing him aboard on a one-year deal.
2008 After starting the 2006 All-Star Game, Penny's second-half ERA of 6.25 prompted questions about the state of his shoulder, mechanics, conditioning, and attitude. He provided reassuring answers in 2007, battling Jake Peavy for the title of league's best starter with a 10-1, 2.39 ERA first-half showing, and curbing his second-half pitfalls by pitching to contact and thus decreasing his pitches per plate appearance by ten percent. The result was a respectable 3.84 second-half ERA. Though the concurrent erosion of his strikeout and walk rates might generate concern, Penny's increased reliance on his sinker helped him cut his home run rate by more than half to lead all ERA qualifiers. As he enters the final year of the three-year, $25.5 million extension, the staff ace remains another feather in the deposed DePodesta's cap.
2007 The last man standing from the most controversial trade in the team`s recent history--the Paul Lo Duca-Hee Seop Choi deal with the Marlins--Penny signed a three-year, $25.5-million extension on Paul DePodesta`s watch in the summer of 2005. He began 2006 looking as though he might make the deal seem like a bargain, earning a starting nod for the All-Star Game thanks to a 10-2, 2.91 ERA first half. It was downhill from there, as `Bad Penny` kept turning up to slog his way through to a second-half ERA of 6.25. Reasons for the decline were unclear; in late May, Penny erupted after being pulled, then complained he`d been pitching through a sore shoulder. The problem was determined to be mechanical, and he didn`t even miss a turn. Down the stretch, he attempted to pitch through lower back tightness and was often hit hard, but, even with eleventeen starters in reserve, the team didn`t skip his turn until the postseason, when Grady Little split the difference by using Penny in relief during Game One of the Division Series; Penny surrendered a lead and took the loss. Penny`s shown a disturbing trend towards wearing down as the season goes on: 6.2 IP/GS, 3.16 ERA, 0.6 HR/9 before the break in 2005 and 2006, against 5.4 IP/GS, 5.38 ERA, 1.3 HR/9 after. The Dodgers would do well to ensure that he`s in top shape and prevent him from pitching when he`s less than healthy in order to maximize the return on their investment.
2006 Much to the Dodgers` collective relief, Penny showed no ill effects from the biceps injury that curtailed his 2004 season shortly after his inclusion in the now-infamous and overly lamented Lo Duca trade. He wasn`t as dominant as he`d been in his tantalizing Dodger debut, but he pitched at an above-average level and took the ball every fifth day until forearm tightness shut him down in mid-September. His numbers are moving in all kinds of contradictory directions--decreased strikeout rate, significantly decreased walk rate, increased homer rate, increased G/F ratio--but there`s nothing to indicate he won`t continue being an effective starter. Still, it will take a return to his pre-injury form to merit the three-year, $25 million extension that DePodesta gave him.
2005 Viewed by most as the centerpiece to last year's Marlins deadline deal, Penny briefly silenced Dodger fans who'd mourned over Paul Lo Duca's departure and lamented not getting Randy Johnson, spinning eight shutout innings and yielding just two infield hits in his first L.A. start. "I think it's safe to say Brad Penny walked in here and lived up to his billing," Manager Jim Tracy beamed after the outing. The very next start, Penny suffered a biceps injury, knocking him out for six weeks. He returned against the Padres in late September, only to re-injure his pitching arm. Long suspected of having a serious injury—the Phantom MRI debacle when it looked like Penny might get dealt to the Reds a while back still lingers—Penny's being counted on to produce 200 innings of #2 quality starter stuff in 2005. He's talented enough to thrive if healthy, but that's a big if. The Dodgers' pitching staff remains questionable even after Odalis Perez's re-signing; Hee Seop Choi will prove to be the gem of last year's trade.
2004 Speculation ran rampant last off-season that Penny had serious arm problems, leading to a possible three-way deal that would have sent Penny to Cincinnati getting nixed. His only official 2002 injury was a month on the DL due to biceps tendinitis, though an MRI later showed a frayed rotator cuff. With shoulder surgery still a crap shoot, more pitchers have opted for rest and strengthening exercises instead. Penny went that route and turned in a strong '03 season, helping the push to a championship. He'll be an asset even at $3 million next year, though the Marlins have discussed trading from their pitching depth to fill other needs.
2003 Penny has been the subject of some interesting postseason talk, where an unnamed NL general manager posited that Penny’s got a serious arm problem. The Marlins loudly denounced the rumors, but that’s what you do when you’ve got a pitcher you wouldn’t mind trading. It isn’t speculation that Penny had a down year in 2002, hitting the DL with biceps inflammation and wrestling with blister problems. With all of the potential buyers suspicious and kicking the tires repeatedly before shrugging and moving on, it looks like Penny will be the #2 starter with Florida in 2003. Assuming his arm doesn’t fall off.
2002 If you've gone through this chapter page by page and are tired of reading about great young Marlins pitchers, you're in luck: Penny is the last one. He was very good from start to finish, with only a strained rib cage marring an otherwise fine season. The massive improvement in his control kept his workload ridiculously low: Penny's Stress score of 4 was among the four lowest among pitchers with at least 200 innings. He inherits the staff ace mantle from Dempster.
2001 Brad Penny surprised the Marlins by dominating the Grapefruit League, earning a spot in the rotation a year earlier than anticipated. He pitched well before a strained shoulder turned down his heat and ultimately landed him on the disabled list. When he returned, he had a new grip on his fastball that improved his control and helped him post a 3.04 ERA the remainder of the season. Penny has the complete package to become a #1 starter if he can negotiate the injury gauntlet while his body matures.
2000 The best pitching prospect in baseball, once you factor the likelihood of injury into the equation. Penny battled tendinitis early this season, which kept his workload down yet didn’t impact his development. The movement on his fastball gets him a lot of ground balls and helps him keep the ball in the park. Still a year away, he’ll be a significant contributor to a good Marlins team in 2002.
1999 Owned the Cal League with excellent command and a 90-plus fastball, and did so in the league's best hitters' park. I'm concerned about the workload, although he didn't walk many batters and threw only one complete game. One of the three or four best pitching prospects in the game.

Related Content:  Brad Penny

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