Don't look now, but Brad Penny is making tonight's start for the Miami Marlins versus the New York Mets. The Mets are sending out Jon Niese, who has an ERA of 3.48 and a FIP of 3.83. The Marlins, who are trying to stay relevant in an impossible playoff race, are starting the 36-year-old Penny, whose last good season came when the Fish still had Jorge Cantu on their roster.
The Marlins already tried Penny once in their rotation, but after two poor starts in which he struck out six and walked seven while giving up yielding six runs in 10 innings, he was pulled in favor of Brad Hand. After a difficult August following Hand's illusory July, the Fish are back to sticking Penny in the rotation. Manager Mike Redmond tried to sell this as a good thing.
Penny, 36, has made two starts this season, going 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA. He's also pitched twice in relief -- including throwing one scoreless inning in Friday's 5-2 loss in Atlanta.
"He's done a nice job," Redmond said. "He's been in big games, big situations. He's earned it."
Here, Redmond turned to the cliche of the veteran starter who has big-game experience. Hand did throw one scoreless inning recently, but he did allow three runs and and walked two with just one strikeout in 3 1/3 relief innings (two appearance), so it is not exactly like he was lighting up the bullpen either.
The Marlins claim they are in an important playoff race, but they are likely tossing out one of the worst starters currently in baseball. If every game counts, shouldn't the Marlins be looking to use any better options at their disposal? Let's list a few names the Fish could easily try, with their ZiPS projections listed when applicable.
1. Andrew Heaney
Those numbers do not look great for the team's top prospect, but as we mentioned before Heaney's demotion, the Marlins should not be concerned about his play. His play in Triple-A should make that apparent. Heaney has struck out 26.6 percent of the batters he's faced at the highest minor league level in MLB, and he is performing in an extremely hitter-friendly league. His 3.84 ERA is 17 percent better than the league average, which is equivalent to what Max Scherzer is doing in 2014 in the bigs.
Prior to Heaney's final start in the majors, his strikeout and walk numbers were excellent and on par with a decent Major League starter. Miami is concerned that Heaney does not have a "plan" in the majors at this point, but the team saw 20 2/3 innings of the lefty and made their decision. Penny has already thrown 13 1/3 innings; how much longer of a leash will he have?
2. Anthony DeSclafani
DeSclafani has actually pitched a bit better than Heaney, though that has more to do with his limiting homers in the Pacific Coast League than his more predictive strikeout and walk rates. Overall, however, he has pitched well in the minors this year, but that has not translated into good numbers in 26 1/3 innings in the majors.
Like Heaney, however, DeSclafani suffered some bad luck in terms of timing and spacing of his hits allowed. He only stranded 56 percent of baserunners he allowed, which is well below the league average and highly unlikely to be repeated. He did a good job in Miami of limiting his walks, and his 4.27 FIP and 4.00 xFIP suggest that he was pitching better than his ERA showed. The home run problem may persist given DeSclafani's plummeting ground ball rates in the minors and bigs, but his stuff at this point is probably ahead of Penny's.
3. Brad Hand
Hand's inclusion here is dubious, but the numbers are so borderline that I would be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to him. The Marlins could continue to send out the lefty, who is the team's only southpaw in the rotation, out there instead of Penny simply on the back of age and likely improvement. Penny has more regression to come, unless he is simply no longer a Major Leaguer, but Hand appears closer to being a functional pitcher. The team's issue with lefties in the pen is out of the question now that Dan Jennings is back in the pen with roster expanding.
Hand excels at nothing in particular, so it is not as though he is a great suggestion. But the Marlins already had him in the rotation, and the odds of him being worse than Penny at his age are probably small.
4. Brian Flynn
I do not necessarily buy these projections given Flynn's relatively ugly season at Triple-A. His strikeout rates have fallen since last year and his walk rates are up. Flynn finally began giving up homers at the minor league level, and that has left him vulnerable. His ground ball rates are not strong either, so it is not as though you can expect that 0.84 homers per nine innings to start falling due to his worm-burning ways.
Flynn, like Hand, may just be another marginal lefty choice, but he also was pitching extremely well as late as last season. Last year, Penny was getting released by a Japanese team.
5. Jacob Turner
Just kidding, but remember that we gave up on him to put the no-upside Penny on the roster.
The rest of the Marlins' pitching prospects have reasons to be in the minors. Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino have the Jacksonville Suns' playoff hopes on their shoulders. Adam Conley appears to be injured. The rest of the Triple-A crew includes some non-prospect names.
None of the five names above would make a dent in the team's playoff hopes. You would have to replace Penny with Jose Fernandez to start making up games of that kind of magnitude. But for a team that depends on its youth and pushes its young players, it seems odd that Miami would give supposedly meaningful playing time to a old veteran who already is playing poor and has been for years.
Wait, never mind. Greg Dobbs. Wes Helms. Kevin Gregg. Marlins baseball!