St. Louis Cardinals hoping to get their Penny's worth

Cole ClaybournCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2010

JUPITER, FL - MARCH 01:  Pitcher Brad Penny #33 of the St. Louis Cardinals during photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on March 1, 2010 in Jupiter, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

In the real world, a penny isn’t worth much at all. But when it comes to the potential success of the Cardinals’ 2010 pitching rotation, a Penny is actually worth a ton.

Brad Penny is one of the newest faces to the Cardinals’ clubhouse, but he’s already being counted on as a key member of the rotation. Like last season, manager Tony La Russa has two starters this year that he is sure will perform well (barring injury) in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

But also like last season, La Russa is uncertain what to expect out of the rest of the rotation.

But last season La Russa and the Cardinals were pleasantly surprised when No. 3 starter Joel Pineiro won 15 games and posted a 3.49 ERA. It was the first time in seven seasons that Pineiro won more than eight games. His surprising success helped lead the Cardinals to a National League Central title, winning the division by 7.5 games over the Cubs.

But Pineiro was let go after the season, and in came Penny to fill his spot at a much cheaper price and with more upside than Pineiro would’ve had if he would’ve returned to the club. La Russa will need the same type of production from Penny that he got out of Pineiro if the Cardinals want to repeat as NL Central champions.

Given Penny’s previous success, which includes two All-Star Game appearances and a No. 3 finish in Cy Young voting in 2007, mixed with pitching coach Dave Duncan, a 15 win season, or more, isn’t out of the question for him.

In his 10 seasons, Penny has been a 10 or more game winner five times, topping off at 16 wins twice, in 2006 and 2007 with the Dodgers. After spending much of the 2008 season on the disabled list, Penny was dealt to the Boston Red Sox. His success from L.A. didn’t travel with him and he won just seven games in 24 starts with the Red Sox, posting an ERA of 5.61.

But midway through the season, Penny was shipped back out west and found success again, this time with the San Francisco Giants. He went 4-1 in six starts with the club, striking out 20 batters and posting a 2.59 ERA.

La Russa is hoping to get the 2006-2007 Los Angeles version of Brad Penny and not the one that showed up in Boston last season.

It’s clear that Penny is better suited for the National League, where he’s spent his entire career except for his brief stint with the Red Sox. And now that he’s being coached by arguably the best pitching coach in baseball, the expectations for Penny are limitless.

Should he encounter any troubles throughout the season, you can pretty much guarantee yourself that they won’t last long—Dave Duncan has been able to resurrect the careers of a number of struggling pitchers.

He turned Jeff Weaver from a three game winner in L.A. with a 6.29 ERA into a pivotal member of the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series team, winning two games in the postseason, including the series clinching game in the World Series.

He did the same with Jeff Suppan, who went on to be named the NLCS MVP that same year, and Woody Williams, among others.

The key to any pitching staff is to have at least three reliable starters to count on to win 10 or more games. Although Pineiro was coming off a great year, it wasn’t a sure thing that he’d follow up this season with a similar one to 2009, considering the struggling seasons prior to it.

But Penny seems to be the right fit, both for the price and the fact that he’s proven he can win, and win a lot. So even though it’s still technically an uncertainty on Penny, La Russa should be able to rest assured he has a viable, and proven, starter in the No. 3 spot.


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