No, They’re Saying Foo-Ranklin

Normally, I don’t like it when Cardinals fans boo Cardinals players. It’s usually stupid. I can’t help but remember Ray Lankford’s 2000/2001 seasons, when the crowd at Busch absolutely turned on the only player who was worth a damn for the team in the early 90s and one of the best Cardinals outfielders of all time. He wasn’t even playing badly. His OPS was around .840, which isn’t fantastic for a corner OF, but it’s certainly not bad.

But that was ten years ago, before OPS was on the scoreboard of almost every stadium and overlay of almost every broadcast. All most people saw was his .250 average and his abundant strikeouts. Suddenly Ray Lankford, who was the face of the Cardinals before McGwire, was greeted and ushered from the plate with boos. It was ridiculous, and I was thankful that the Cards brought Lankford out of retirement for one more season in 2004. Not because he still had talent–though a 99 OPS+ is fairly impressive for a guy who took a year off–but so he could get a more fitting send off from the Cards and their fans.

This is different. I understand why Cards fans are booing Ryan Franklin. It’s not disgraceful. We haven’t turned into New York or Philadelphia. We’re fed up, and not just with Franklin.

Saturday’s game was nationally televised. Anyone who knew when to turn the television back on after the rain delay watched it from coast-to-coast. And I’m fairly certain the Tony La Russa was the only person in the country who believed that Ryan Franklin should come into a tie game with the bases loaded against the division-rival Reds.

Being a baseball fan can be very frustrating, especially in situations like this. I guess I’m used to the occasional moment where I want to slam my head into my computer out of frustration. For example, bunting Chris Carpenter over in the third inning with Ryan Theriot. Or, for that matter, bunting Yadier Molina to third so that Tyler Greene can “bat” against Aroldis Chapman. That stuff annoys me, but I’ve accepted it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the big picture, I know that it hurts the team more often than it helps, but I can at least get excited about the possibility that it will work. I can still appreciate small ball even if I think it’s stupid.

But I can’t appreciate what is happening with Ryan Franklin. A few days ago, I indicated that Franklin would get better. He’s always depended on luck, and he’s had a lot of it the last couple of years. I wasn’t arguing that he should stay in the closer spot–he should have never been there to begin with. But I thought he could get better and have some value in long relief. Maybe he still can, but now that I’ve had a couple more chances to watch him pitch…something is wrong. He never had great stuff or location, but he had just enough to put himself in a position to benefit from good luck. I don’t think he has that any more.

TLR should see this. Duncan probably does see this, and I’d be very curious to hear what he had to say about Franklin, but the organization has kept him on a tight leash with the media ever since his “adventure” posting on one of the stltoday.com message boards. But today, despite mounds of evidence against such a move, TLR put him in a tie game. In fact, he put him in during a higher leverage at bat than most save situations ever see. And, of course, we all know what happened.

So, yeah, fans are going to boo. They are not booing Ryan Franklin the Person. This has nothing to do with him. Outside of maybe a few people who have problems with unruly facial hair, every one of those booing fans would much rather be cheering Franklin. They are booing out of frustration. They know that he shouldn’t be pitching in a high leverage situation. Everyone knows that. And yet it keeps happening. The only thing they can do is voice that frustration.

It’s only going to get worse. In a few days, Brian Tallet will be eligible to come off the disabled list and TLR/Mo will have a tough choice to make. It’s not really a tough choice. Neither Tallet nor Franklin should have roster priority over Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez. Unfortunately, we all know TLR wants multiple lefthanders in the pen, so dropping Tallet is not an option. Miller and Motte are understandably safe. That leaves three spots for Ryan Franklin, Miguel Batista, Salas, and Sanchez.

The decision should be between Franklin and Batista. Maybe Franklin is hurt. It’s entirely possible. Even if he’s not, the Cards FO could say he has an “oblique strain”, DL him, and then send him down on rehab to recover. If that’s impossible, for whatever reason, Batista should go. Unfortunately, I think everyone knows that the real choice will be between Salas and Sanchez. One of them will go down. Franklin will remain in the majors. And the boos will continue. They will intensify.

Maybe they should. Maybe that’s the only thing the fans can do in the face of the obstinance of Cardinals management. TLR and Mo need to realize that the fans aren’t satisfied. We don’t want to see TLR’s friends play baseball, damn the results. We want to see wins. And we’ve all noticed that Ryan Franklin is giving us only losses.

I promise this will be my last Ryan Franklin entry (at least until Salas or Sanchez is sent down and he remains and I lose my mind).

Miguel Batista or: How I Learned How to Stop Pitching and Give Up the Bomb

The Cardinals opening day roster was announced today. There were very few surprises. Kyle McClellan won the starting role vacated by Adam Wainwright when he announced his injury and broke the spirits of Cardinals fans everywhere. Jason Motte fortunately didn’t lose his spot because of a weak spring. Tyler Greene, Ryan Theriot, and Skip Schumaker are all present and willing to give up their individuality to blend into an indistinguishable mass of hustle, scrap, and grit. The only real shock is the presence of rookie Bryan Augenstein instead of Fernando Salas.

Augenstein came out of nowhere to put together a fantastic spring. He struck out 13 and walked only 3 in just over 11 innings. He completely deserves his spot on the MLB roster. If everyone is determined to make the competition for the last bullpen spot a battle between Augenstein and Salas, then the Cardinals made the right choice. Augenstein out-pitched Salas and earned a spot on the team.

But it’s not that simple. The real story here isn’t that Augenstein beat out Salas. The real story, or what everyone should be talking about, is the selection of Miguel Batista over Salas.

Miguel Batista is the 40 year old author of the crime novel Through the Eyes of the Law and, apparently, still a major league pitcher. Last year, with the Washington Nationals, he had an ERA of 3.70 and a 1.33 WHIP. These numbers are deceptively mediocre. He wasn’t nearly that passable.

In 82 innings, Miguel Batista struck out 55 batters and walked 39. He gave up 9 HR and had a BAbip of .257. His career BAbip is .299. So basically he was just lucky. He was lucky to be sufficient. And he’s only a year older now. His stuff is fading. He’s made an admirable career of being just decent enough (which is a lot better than most people could ever be in MLB) but it’s probably time to hang up the spikes.

I’m sure some people will point to Batista’s stats in spring training as the reason he made the team. He had a 1.59 ERA! That’s amazingly low! That would have been one of the best seasons in history if extrapolated to 162 games!

Spring training stats are meaningless. Especially for relievers. Relievers enter games in the later innings, when the starters are on the bench. The prospects and AAA fodder are taking at-bats. Most of the batters Batista faced in spring training were not MLB caliber players.

And that makes the next part worse. Miguel Batista didn’t really have a good spring. In eleven innings, he only struck out 6 and walked five. He also hit one batter and gave up 9 hits. That’s not good. That’s bad. He had a bad spring training and he still made the team.

Meanwhile, Fernando Salas gave up only 4 hits. He struck out 8 and walked 7 (still not great). He didn’t give up any HR. He even had an !!ERA!! of 0.73. So not only did he do the important things as well, or better, than Batista…he was also better at the unimportant things. He was better in every way.

And that’s not surprising. While Miguel Batista was lucking into mediocrity last season, Fernando Salas was putting up good numbers for the Cardinals in MLB and AAA. Salas had 29 strikeouts and 15 walks in thirty MLB innings last year. In AAA he had an exceptional 11.1 K/9.

There is no reason for Miguel Batista to make the MLB team this year while Salas continues to play in AAA. The bullpen is a weakness for the team. Instead of putting the best players out there, a washed-up veteran gets playing time over a MLB-ready rookie.

I wish I could say this was a surprise.