A couple of days ago, the Red Sox announced they were releasing Brad Penny. In 131.2 innings, his ERA was 5.61 and he was particularly struggling in August. With the Red Sox in a dog fight to win the wild card, many people were discouraged at that performance to say the least.
However, like many Red Sox pitchers this year, he being plagued by an elevated BABIP and his strand rate was very low as well. His peripherals remained solid, as he was striking out over twice as many hitters as he walked and had a respectable home run rate. Accordingly, his FIP was over a full run lower than his ERA at 4.49 – a pretty solid line while pitching in a pitchers park in the AL East.
Furthermore, despite having major surgery before the season started, his stuff was looking just as good as when he was a dark horse Cy Young candidate with the Dodgers a couple of years. It’s not like he is old either, he’s only 31. Combine that with the fact that ZIPS projected a 4.19 FIP going forward, and it looks like Penny was still as solid pitcher going forward.
Of course this isn’t an isolated indecent. The Red Sox recently released John Smoltz under similar circumstances, and he has since pitched very well for the Cardinals. Given the information we have about Penny, I am inclined to think he will also have success with whatever team picks him up.
I’m sure you’ve heard this shtick before, as seemingly almost every single writer in the world have had similar opinions. In a recent post at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron disparaged the Red Sox for releasing Smoltz and Penny:
For the second time this month, the Red Sox have overreacted to a recent poor stretch of results and granted free agency to a quality major league pitcher.
However, it isn’t a one sided debate. A lot of people are willing to give the Red Sox the benefit of the doubt. They have been one of the most successful teams over the past half decade, and their front office is generally regarded as one of the best in baseball. Furthermore, the possible reasons for releasing Penny and Smoltz certainly have some merit:
*Both were relatively expensive and past their prime
*They were also hurting the team by giving up so many runs
*Their was reason to believe that some of the younger Red Sox, like Buchholz and Tazawa, could pitch as well going forward
Also, it’s almost a certainty that the Red Sox front office has more information about the situations then the average blogger. Many people pointed to the fact that the Red Sox have Bill James on the payroll so they understand that ERA isn’t a good way to evaluate pitchers, and they were obviously basing the decision off of something else.
However, none of that explains why the Red Sox started Paul Byrd today against Toronto. Yes, that Paul Byrd*. The one that is 39 years old hasn’t had an ERA under 4.59 since 2005 and whose tRA last year was a nifty 6.31. To top that off, he was previously considered to be retired and hasn’t pitched since the 08 season. His preseason ERA projections ranged from the high 4′s to the low 5′s, and those seem optimistic considering he hasn’t pitched in 8 months.
I can’t think of one logical explanation of why the Red Sox would replace Smoltz and Penny, both guys who have clear and tangible upside, with a guy like Byrd, who is the walking definition of replacement level. Cutting Smoltz and Penny due to opportunity costs is defensible, but all of that goes out the window when you give a guy like Byrd starts. Even if they only planned to use him for 1 start, it still doesn’t make an iota of sense.
I’m still willing to give the Red Sox the benefit of the doubt, but it’s starting look a whole lot like they were simply blinded by Smoltz’s and Penny’s ERA.
*I have nothing against Byrd, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and was once a solid pitcher