RBTN: American League Zeroes Now National League Heroes

Craig RondinoneCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2009

BOSTON - JUNE 11:  Brad Penny #36 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after striking out Hideki Matsui #55 of the New York Yankees in the sixth at Fenway Park on June 11, 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

You want to bolster your fantasy baseball team’s pitching staff? Just pick up the same scrubs off the waiver wire that National League teams are and you will do just fine.

The National League is inferior to the American League, plain and simple. When was the last time the NL won an All-Star Game, before Hannah Montana was in kindergarten?

How well has the NL fared in interleague play in recent years? Right, about as well as Hulk Hogan has done in court.

But the proof has really been in the pudding this season, as starting pitchers who were so bad in the American League they were dumped like ugly girls on prom night have suddenly reappeared in the National League and thrown like they are Cy Young candidates.

Sure, pitchers will undoubtedly have lower ERAs and WHIPs in the NL than the AL because they get to face an opposing pitcher instead of a designated hitter, but besides that the AL lineups are stronger, deeper, and much, much better.

Here are three starting pitchers that failed in the AL but have flourished in the NL this year.


Brad Penny (San Francisco Giants)

Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein looked like a genius again when he signed two-time 16-game winner Penny for a bargain basement price in the offseason. Then Penny started pitching. The results were not good, and they never got better.

Penny and his 5.61 ERA and 1.53 WHIP were about to be drummed out of the Red Sox rotation until he was granted his wish and let go.

Now back in the National League, a place where he has had his greatest successes and probably has books on most hitters, Penny has pitched a pair of gems to kick off his new life with San Francisco. Two starts, two wins, two earned runs. His 1.20 ERA and 0.67 WHIP with the Giants have been a phenomenal help to fantasy owners down the stretch.

Maybe some magic dust from Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain has rubbed off on Penny’s pitching shoulder, or maybe Penny has been infused with some extra incentive to prove that he can still pitch. Whatever the case, he looks primed to have a solid September for the fantasy owners that were smart enough to scoop him up.


Vicente Padilla (Los Angeles Dodgers)

One of baseball’s best headhunters was frozen out of the Texas Rangers’ rotation thanks to complaints from Rangers hitters and a plethora of young, low-cost, no-name fireballers with higher ceilings and lower WHIPs.

Padilla was no prize this season with Texas (8-6, 4.92 ERA), but there are a lot of worse pitchers with worse numbers in the majors still sticking in starting rotations and not being given the heave-ho like he was. You knew it would not take long for Padilla to find work, not with playoff-bound teams like the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers trotting out guys like Sergio Mitre and Armando Galarraga every fifth day.

Luckily, Padilla and his agent played it right and moved to the NL. Los Angeles, a team with a humongous ballpark that could prevent Padilla’s mistakes from turning into home runs, was perfect.

In three starts with the Dodgers, Padilla is 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. And the September schedule is favorable for Padilla. He could have starts against Pittsburgh, Washington, and San Diego when fantasy owners need him most.


John Smoltz (St. Louis Cardinals)

Smoltz did not look like a 42-year old with the Boston Red Sox earlier this season. He looked like a 142-year old.

His flat fastballs were missing a couple miles per hour, his curves lacked the drop they used to have, and his sliders were not sliding. That led to Smoltz posting ungodly ERAs and WHIPs of 8.32 and 1.70, respectively, and caused Boston to designate him for assignment and caused Smoltz to contemplate retirement.

But St. Louis pitching guru Dave Duncan has a way of salvaging careers. Just ask Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin, along with their fantasy owners. One tune-up and three weeks later, Smoltz has had four decent starts in a row for the Cards, giving fantasy owners a 3.27 ERA and 0.91 WHIP during that span. More impressively, his pitches have regained their hair and bite, as evidenced by his 28 strikeouts in 22 innings since coming back to the NL.

Is it a coincidence that Penny, Padilla, and Smoltz all bombed in the AL and have all turned their fantasy fortunes around in the NL? Hardly. Bigger ballparks and weaker lineups can change a 5.00 ERA pitcher into a 3.75 ERA pitcher faster than a humidor.