Brad Penny’s career in American professional baseball may not be officially over quite yet, but it has been put on hold. The 33-year-old right-hander will instead pitch for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (as passed along by Patrick Newman) during the 2012 campaign, and his contract contains an option for 2013 as well.
Penny’s performance in 2011 — a 5.30 ERA and a 5.02 FIP thanks to a staggeringly low 3.7 strikeout rate — made him look like a 43-year-old rather than a 33-year-old. It isn’t long ago that Penny was starting an All-Star Game — 2006, opposite Kenny Rogers of all matchups — and although maybe his selection as an All-Star starter was an odd one, Penny deserves some recognition for his performance from 2001 through 2007.
Penny’s best season actually came in 2007, a year after his selection as All-Star Game starter. Penny collapsed mightily in the second half of the 2006 season, allowing a 6.25 ERA and 12 home runs in his final 15 starts to finish with just a 4.33 overall ERA and a 3.89 FIP. The next season, despite a drop-off of over a strikeout per nine innings, Penny was strong from start to finish. His 3.03 ERA was backed by a fine 3.63 FIP, and even though he probably had some help from Dodger Stadium in allowing just nine home runs in his 33 starts, it’s difficult to argue with that kind of run prevention.
This type of consistently solid but never truly fantastic performance began with a breakout season with the 2001 Marlins and lasted through that 2007 season — the drop-off in strikeout rate eventually became too much for Penny to overcome as home runs started flying out of the park against his diminishing fastball.
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Penny’s career in America may not be over quite yet — at 33, there is ample time for Penny to figure it out in Japan and return to the states for one last go. However, his inability to miss bats does not bode well. If it is indeed the case that Penny has thrown his last pitch in the major leagues, it is the end of a solid career — one that will not have gripped the memories of baseball’s legions of fans, but one that deserves recognition nonetheless.