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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Meditations: Rockies 9, Dodgers 7

Rethinking Brad Penny

I have thought for some time — really, since the Dodgers acquired Brad Penny — that the trade that brought him to the Dodgers was a wise one. Unloading an aging but much-loved catcher and the team's primary setup man for a young starting pitcher with postseason experience yet enough of an injury history to dull his value a bit struck me as (at least) a good idea from the pitching side. As it happened, Penny was a non-factor, the team got by fine without Guillermo Mota (who has subsequently turned into a penguin, or some other creature that can't throw), but the guys the Dodgers relied on from then out to handle the team's catching (Dave Ross, and Brent Mayne in his farewell tour) were acceptable enough, apparently, to get the team to the Promised Land of Postseason.

But here we are three years later: Penny had durability issues right from the start, missing the virtually all of the balance of his 2004 season, missed significant time in 2005 (and was ineffective for long stretches when he was available), and managed a horrible 18.00 ERA in one inning of relief work in the 2006 NLDS. (In his defense, this result wasn't surprising, considering he had made one relief appearance all year previously.)

But there comes a time when you begin to realize that maybe the best laid plans aren't working out. Penny has the team's best won-loss record, and is a close third in the league top five in ERA. Yet his performance in the second half (6-3, 3.65 ERA) isn't nearly as good as his first-half performance (10-1, 2.39 ERA); he's also having trouble notching quality starts, getting only six out of ten tries since August 1.

Allowance needs to be made, of course, for the second half; it's a grind, no doubt about it. Nevertheless, at some point you begin to wonder about whether Penny will really be that postseason difference maker even if he gets there. That was part of the calculation that went into Billy Beane's trade of Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson three offseasons ago; certainly, some of the same eerie parallels also happened in the ERA department as Mulder turned in a 6.13 ERA in the second half of 2004. Penny's nowhere near that level of catastrophe, but given today's performance, you do wonder what he's got left in the tank, and whether it's worth keeping him around.

The Kids

Once again, every single run was driven in by one of the kids, whether it was James Loney's three-run homer, Chin-Lung Hu's two-run shot, or Delwyn Young's solo shot. Reflexively, it was the veterans who lost the game, Mark Hendrickson in particular. I don't know if there are enough kids to make this team work. But until Furcal is healthy again, and until Slappy McPopup is cured of his strange mental disease that makes him believe he is a major league hitter, there would seem to be enough kids to go around in all the positions.

Update: And, oh yeah, this loss knocked the Dodgers out of any postseason contention whatsoever.

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Penny hasn't been the best pitcher of late, but he's been one of the 5 best starting pitchers in the NL this year, and wins in the first half count as much as wins in the second half.

Meanwhile, Paul LoDuca sucks, Guillermo Mota sucks, and Juan Encarnacion will probably never play again. If that trade had been those three guys for a league average starter it would have been a good trade, and Penny is better than league average by a wide margin. Is he the best? No. But he's a deserving all-star and relatively underpaid.

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