Joel Pineiro vs. Brady Penny: Did St. Louis Make the Right Call?


A hot topic this offseason for Cardinals fans has been the changes in the rotation. The top two are rock solid, probably the best in the bigs. After that, there are plenty of questions to be answered. Hot Stove posed one of these questions to me yesterday: “Did you agree with the Cardinals’ decision to allow Joel Pineiro to leave via free agency, coming off of a career year, and in essence, replace him with Brad Penny, who’s coming off very shaky 2009?”

My simple answer is yes. “While it may look like a downgrade from Pineiro to Penny, the Cardinals got a very similar pitcher at a cheaper price. St. Louis wasn’t ready to reward Pineiro’s only good season since 2003 (6 years is a long time). Penny was in the Cy Young race in 2007 and piled up 11 wins in a down 2009, only four less than Pineiro. He has a solid sinker and still fires in the mid-90s. Overall not bad, and you can never discount Dave Duncan’s magic touch in helping pitchers regain winning form.”

That was my answer for Hot Stove. A more in depth look at the situation shows that the Cardinals made a smart move with what they had at their disposal. Like I said, Pineiro and Penny are in the same class as starting pitchers. Pineiro tasted success for one season, not exactly the track record needed to invest long term. So, Pineiro packed his bags for Los Angeles to join the Angels for two years, $16 million. For one, maybe two seasons, Pineiro was a solid back-end guy that threw strikes and rolled ground balls. He struggled to win games most of his career until the breakout 2009 campaign, in which he had 15 wins and 12 losses. Not exactly a special career year either. My point: He played his role in the rotation, but wasn’t irreplaceable by any stretch.

In comes Brad Penny, a veteran pitcher who also utilizes a sinker to frustrate hitters. Penny has been a very good pitcher throughout his career; a closer look at his “very shaky 2009” reveals some bright spots for him and the Cards heading into 2010. Penny spent most of the season with the Boston Red Sox in the best offensive division in the MLB. A switch to the National League, where Penny is most comfortable will produce better results. After going 7-8 and carrying a 5.61 ERA, Boston cut ties with Penny. This is where it gets positive for Cards fans. San Francisco picked him up and he finished the season strong, going 4-1 with an impressive 2.59 ERA in the NL. Because he is back in his comfort zone, 15 wins seems within reach for the right-hander.

The comfort zone coupled with Duncan and Penny’s excitement to be pitching for his childhood team should be a successful formula for the veteran to get back on track.

Still unsure? In 10 seasons, Penny has compiled a 105-84 record and 4.14 ERA. He usually hits double digits and eats up innings in the middle of the rotation. Compare that to Pineiro’s 10 seasons: 87-79 and a 4.39 ERA and it is apparent that not much is lost.

If anything, St. Louis held onto some money to add to the team’s bench and rotation. The move should make them stronger if Penny can fight his way to another 10-15 win season.

The other question regarding the rotation is the fifth starter. Rich Hill adds intrigue to the competition as a proven big leaguer that needs to get back on track. Hill’s curveball is among the best in the league, but he has had control issues and is coming off shoulder surgery. If everything is healed, he should be able to fill the fifth spot nicely. Kyle McClellan is also in the mix with a four-pitch repertoire and willingness to learn. Some other young guns like Mitchell Boggs and Jaime Garcia will also get a chance to shine at Spring Training. Ultimately, Spring Training will answer this question, deciding the fifth guy and the final pieces of the bullpen.

The Cards should be fine on the mound with Dave Duncan leading the way. He is this era’s Leo Mazzone minus the head bob.

-Note: The Hot Stove report on this issue is now up. I will likely go more in depth each week for each question they pose. Feel free to chime in with your opinions for each topic as well.