A flop in Boston, Brad Penny thriving back in NL

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After pitching for the Giants in the second half last season Brad Penny shut out his former teammates for seven innings last night, improving to 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA on the year.
Penny looks to be the latest in a long line of veteran starters who turned things around and had more success than ever before under Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, with Joel Pineiro and Kyle Lohse providing the most recent examples.
Of course, Penny’s resurgence actually dates back to last year, before hooking up with Duncan in St. Louis. He pitched his way out of the Dodgers’ plans by going 6-9 with a 6.27 ERA in 2008 and then flopped in Boston with a 5.61 ERA in 24 starts, at which point the Red Sox released him.
Penny signed on with the Giants and went 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four starts down the stretch, which was enough for the Cardinals to give him $7.5 million in guaranteed money this offseason. Suddenly that looks like a bargain, because Penny is now 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA in his last 10 starts, walking just 12 batters in 70.1 innings. Penny had plenty of success for the Marlins and Dodgers before falling apart in 2008, so obviously returning to the NL has helped.
Beyond that, Duncan has him throwing more strikes and inducing more ground balls than ever before, which is a huge change for a pitcher who basically just tried to blow hitters away with his mid-90s fastball for the first 10 years of his career. So far this season Penny has thrown his fastball just 51 percent of the time, which is big drop compared to his career rate of over 70 percent.
He obviously won’t be this good all season, but Duncan has worked similar magic with similar pitchers before and while a sub-1.00 ERA is flukishly amazing much of Penny’s improvement can be traced to what seems to be a legitimate change in approach.

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has kissed Rob Manfred’s ring

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Let’s take a trip back to early last February. The hot stove season was as cold as ice. Despite spring training being less than two weeks away, scores of players remained unsigned and rumblings emerged that, perhaps, collusion was to blame.

The players were frustrated and there were reports that they were approaching the union to ask what, if anything, they could do about it. Some suggested some sort of wildcat strike or work slowdown or whatever. None of that seemed feasible or legal, but guys were getting desperate. And not just players. One agent, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA, took to Twitter to suggest something novel along these lines: a potential spring training boycott:

There is a rising tide among players for radical change. A fight is brewing. And it may begin with one, maybe two and, perhaps, 1,200 willing to follow. A boycott of Spring Training may be a starting point if behavior doesn’t change.

There was a lot more to that — Van Wagenen issued a whole statement attached to his tweet taking the owners to task and clearly implying that he believed the owners were acting less-than-scrupulously — but I can’t remember what it said and I can’t check because, at some point between then and now, Van Wagenen deleted it.

Probably because he is now the general manager of the New York Mets, putting him on the side of management, not players. Probably because he now, ultimately, answers to Rob Manfred. The same Rob Manfred, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reports, met with Van Wagenen at the just-concluded owners meetings down in Atlanta.

Based on Davidoff’s report — which deals specifically with Van Wagenen’s February tweet — it sounds like they have come to an . . . understanding about it all. Manfred:

“Brodie called me right after he accepted the job,” Manfred said during a news conference. “We had a really good conversation. I think that he understands the concerns that a comment like that raises amongst our group. But I have every confidence that he’s going to conduct himself in a way that will make him a really productive member of the baseball family.”

“Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your daughter… ‘s wedding… on the day of your daughter’s wedding. And I hope their first child be a masculine child. I pledge my ever-ending loyalty,” Van Wagenen did not add but may as well have.