Last night, new Giants pitcher Brad Penny walked belly-first into the lions' den and, contrary to the predictions of his former employer, emerged victorious. Penny shut down the National League's best offense in one of baseball's most famous band box, holding the Phillies to but five hits in 8 shutout innings in Citizens Bank Park as the Giants topped the WFC's 4-0.
Penny had been cut loose by the Red Sox after posting a miserable 5.61 ERA in twenty-four sub-par starts but found employment with another Wild Card contender right quick. So whaddya think of your new guy, Skip?
"Some things are hard to explain," (Giants manager Bruce) Bochy said of Penny's Boston collapse, "and that's one of them."
I disagree. There are certain points to explain why things have changed for Penny, and here's one: defense, baby, defense.
Although one game is far too small a sample size to judge Penny's defensive support, the difference between his two employers in 2009 is marked. In terms of UZR, the Giants are 3rd in baseball while the Red Sox are 23rd. Narrowing it down to UZR among the outfielders, the Giants are 2nd while the the Red Sox are the third worst team in baseball. The difference doesn't come from errors or assists, it comes exclusively from range. See, Giants players like Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, and Fred Lewis are far more likely to turn that line drive into an out than J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jason Bay.
But who knows, in the end, Penny's got a ways to go before his strikeout rate reaches its previous levels and may never blow that speedball by 'em again. The change of defensive scenery might not do enough for Penny's success. Still, that single start last night was enough to justify Brian Sabean's waiver move and help the Giants get closer to a playoff spot.