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This past offseason, the Red Sox became the land of the reclamation projects. The signings of Takashi Saito, John Smoltz, and Brad Penny were seen as low-risk, high-reward moves. Saito has worked out pretty well, but Smoltz and Penny were largely seen as busts. Theo Epstein cut ties with both pitchers, who then found new homes in the National League (Smoltz in St. Louis, Penny in San Francisco).
John Smoltz has been very effective in three starts with the Cardinals, and Brad Penny was downright dominant in his first start with the Giants. Say what? Try eight-shutout-innings-dominant against the best lineup in the National League (the Phillies), and in arguably the hardest pitcher’s park in the majors (Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia).
Why are Penny and Smoltz so effective now? Who is to blame here? Is it simply because the AL is that much stronger than the NL?
Here’s how the Smoltz and Penny have fared since they left the Red Sox:
Well, the AL is definitely much stronger than the NL, first and foremost. Pitchers generally have lower ERA’s when they switch from the AL to the NL during the season (see: Cliff Lee, Smoltz), in part because the lineups are weaker, and because the ninth hitter on every NL squad is a pitcher.
Should Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell share some of the blame on the failures of Penny and Smoltz? Well, Farrell is widely considered one of the best pitching coaches in baseball, and has been credited with the development of pitchers like Jon Lester and recently Clay Buchholz. Perhaps Farrell has trouble with older starters? Or…perhaps it’s not Farrell’s fault at all. I’d say Farrell (and Jason Varitek) could have got more out of both pitchers, but that’s not the big issue.
The switch to the NL, especially for Smoltz, is the primary reason for their success. Smoltz dominated the Padres and Nationals, who are among the worst teams in baseball. Meanwhile, Penny beat down the best team in the National League, which further proves the league’s inferiority.
So, is there any way we can send Josh Beckett down to the NL for a few games so he can get his confidence and effectiveness back? That’s another story for another day.