In just about anything you do, it often pays to at least be thinking one step ahead of everybody else. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be prescient to the point that you can call the next pitch. Sometimes it is as simple as preparing for a rainy day or anticipating needs before they appear. That’s the job of the GM, and you can bet that John Mozeliak is constantly on the lookout for pools of water before anybody else sees the leak. That’s his job. Well, I have a small concern, and I’d like to start stuffing the “Suggestions” box right now.
My concern is about the closer, Ryan Franklin. It’s not that he didn’t perform well in 2010, because he was good. He went 6-2 with 27 saves and a 3.46 era. He only pitched 65 innings in 59 appearances. For a 37 year-old closer, that seems fairly reasonable. His walks per 9 innings (BB/9) rate was 1.4, and his strikeouts per 9 innings (SO/9) was 5.8 for a really impressive strikout to walk ratio of 4.20. He faced 264 batters, and he struck out 42 while giving up 7 home runs. Again, he was good. So, what seems to be the problem? The 2009 season is the problem. More specifically, a rather precipitous dropoff between the 2009 and 2010 seasons is the problem.
In 2009, Franklin went 4-3 with 38 saves and a miniscule 1.92 era. He pitched 61 innings in 62 appearances. His BB/9 rate was 3.5, and his SO/9 was 6.5 for a SO/BB ratio of 1.83. He faced 250 hitters, and he struck out 44 while giving up 2 home runs. The opponent’s batting average against Franklin didn’t change much from 2009 (.220) to 2010 (.230), but he gave up more than double the number of runs in 2010 in just 4 more innings. Amazingly, he did this while improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio. How did this happen?
The problem might have been Franklin’s timing. If you have nothing better to do with an hour or so of your time, go back and look at Franklin’s game logs for 2010. Take a look at all the games in which he surrendered 2 or more runs, and then count the number of calendar days back to his most recent game action. Alternatively, you can just keep reading and trust that I’ve already done the work for you.
- Apr 5, 2 runs, 1st appearance of the year
- Apr 16th, 2 runs, 2 days since last appearance
- Jun 19th, 2 runs, 1 day since last appearance
- Jul 6th, 6 runs, 4 days since last appearance
- Aug 4th, 2 runs, 5 days since last appearance
- Aug 7th, 2 runs, 3 days since last appearance
- Aug 25th, 2 runs, 5 days since last appearance
- Sep 6th, 2 runs, 1 day since last appearance
Now, I’m not suggesting that Franklin struggled simply because he was pitching on back-to-back days or after a long layoff. There are several examples of him successfully pitching on consecutive days without any problems at all. Okay, technically there are only 5. That is a grand total of 5 times in which he pitched on consecutive days without giving up a run. Well, there are probably dozens of times when he pitched really well after long layoffs……or maybe there are like 7 at the most. Perhaps I’m just being a bit paranoid. Then again, I don’t think I am, and I think I’m onto something. Franklin will be 38 by opening day for the 2011 season. If the Cardinals want to maximize his ability to perform, I think that he needs to get the ball about every 3 days. At his age, it’s all about being regular (if you know what I mean). If he knows that he’s going to be used well in advance, he’ll have plenty of time to really get warmed up. He doesn’t have to be the guy who finishes the game each time, and it’s time to acknowledge that.
The Cardinals have the luxury of using someone like Jason Motte to close some nights, and I think he’s a good candidate to be the next closer. His 2.24 era last year was reasonable for a closer, and his SO/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings) of 9.3 was certainly attention-grabbing. If he can spot his fastball just a bit better and improve his strikeout to walk ratio in the process, he’s got a lot of potential to be at least the setup man. Since it’s usually a lot less expensive to develop a closer than to go out and sign one or trade for one, I hope the Cardinals work on promoting from within the organization. In the meantime, maybe Franklin’s appearances can be managed well enough that he can keep that seat warm until Motte is ready to close full time.
TIDBIT: As of today, the Cardinals have committed $99.125M to 12 players for 2011. If the team does not sign a veteran free agent backup catcher, it’s likely that the final payroll number will end up around $112M.
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