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).

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Four Games

Bernie Miklasz wrote something in his column this morning that got me thinking:

A St. Louis team that’s 8-8 could easily be looking at a 12-4 record if not for the frequent ninth-inning pyrotechnics.

A lot of people say that it is early, that you cannot draw overarching conclusions about the entire season based on 16 games. That’s true, and a lot of what we’ve seen in these 16 games proves that. We can’t expect the offense to be as terrible as it was in the first week or as amazing as its been in the last week.

However, the first 16 games matter just as much as the last 16 games. Four games in April have the same effect on the standings as the last four games in the season. It is still the difference between a 88 win team and a 92 win team. Often, it is the difference between playing in October and sitting home in October.

Enough people, including me, have slammed Ryan Franklin. He was never a great closer, or a good pitcher. He survived on a steady diet of luck but I don’t think anyone expected him to regress this quickly. And he’s not this bad. Guys who “pitch to contact” and give up a lot of fly balls are easily swayed by the winds of fortune. In 2009, they helped him glide to a 1.92 ERA. In 2011, they’ve battered him for a 11.57 ERA.

There are other issues, such as the fact he’s either throwing his cutter more often, which is exactly what we saw in the Great Jason Isringhausen Debacle of 2008. His location isn’t good, but it’s never been. It’s possible that age is catching up to him, which can be devastating for a guy who throws just hard enough to get outs with his fastball.

But unless he’s hurt, it’s very likely that if TLR keeps running him out there, he’ll end up with an ERA right in line with his 4.5 xFIP. He might even have another string of scoreless innings and successful saves that convinces everyone that he’s “bacK” or “regained his bulldog mentality” or something equally ridiculous.

Hell, if not for certain weather conditions–pressure systems, humidity, and yes, gusts of wind–we might not even be having this discussion. Those fly balls would have hung up and found their way into gloves, and Ryan Franklin wouldn’t have to look over his shoulder at Mitchell Boggs. The sportswriters would be praising him for his toughness and playfully joking about tightrope antics.

But that’s not what happened, and now we’ve lost four games we probably should have won. We don’t know what those four games mean yet, but if we’re one game back of the Reds in September, those errant fly balls are going to hurt.

Something good has to come out of this run of bad luck, bad weather, and bad pitches. Ryan Franklin needs to be taken out of the closer role. Not because he blew four saves in a row. Save percentage is bullshit. It doesn’t mean anything. He could have easily saved all four of those games. Because he shouldn’t have been the closer in the first place, and now everyone can see it. Franklin’s problems are no longer the realm of the sabermetric and the predictive. We’re no longer talking about unsustainable BAbips or suspiciously high xFIPs. Those stats have given way to an atrocious WHIP and a disastrous ERA.

Franklin doesn’t “pitch to contact”. He pitches to the warning track. He shouldn’t be facing the best hitters in one run games. He should be pitching long relief, handling RH batters, eating innings.

This isn’t on Franklin. This is on TLR now. Just like in 2008, when Izzy was faltering, and even the most basic stats reflected it, you can’t blame the pitcher. Everything is there for the manager to see that something has to be changed.

The damage is only four games now. Hopefully TLR has learned something from those four games.

Just One Jaime Garcia Short of a Disaster

Without Jaime Garcia, I’m not sure how I’d be feeling about the Cardinals right now. As it is, I’m pessimistic. But that pessimism is tempered by the victory today. It’s always thrilling to see a CG shutout, especially one as dominant as Garcia’s performance against the Padres. He struck out nine, walked only two, and allowed four hits over 102 pitches. The game lasted just a tick over two hours.

It was a masterful, breezy performance that featured only two scary moments. The first was the sixth inning, where Garcia’s control faltered after giving up a hit to the opposing pitcher and he needed a heads-up play from should-be 2B Daniel Descalso to get out of a jam. The second scary moment was going into the ninth inning, when I thought La Russa might pull Garcia for Ryan Franklin.

I feel good about Garcia, since he was a question mark coming out of spring training. But just about everyone else has been disappointing in the first three games of the season.

Game one was marred by a few tough breaks, but many of the Cards problems were highlighted out of the gate. It was hard to ignore the sub-par defense from Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot up the middle. I’ve harped on that enough, though. The hitting was spotty and just like last year they just couldn’t string enough baserunners together to get runs across the plate. Miguel Batista is probably the worst pitcher on the staff and he’s apparently the late-inning set-up guy.

And then there’s Ryan Franklin, who ultimately blew the save when he gave up a game-tying home run to Cameron Maybin in the ninth inning.

I think it’s important to focus on Franklin. Franklin is not a good pitcher. He’s never been a good pitcher. He’s had some incredible luck with the Cardinals over the last couple of years and put up some impressive front page statistics that have put him in the role of “closer”. He’s had a good ERA and save conversion rate, and that would be fantastic if it actually meant anything.

The truth about Franklin is that his best pitch is a fastball that hovers around 91 mph and has just enough movement to keep it out of batting practice. He only strikes out six batters per nine innings, and walks 2-3. He’s given up a lot of HR in every year except 2009 which, unsurprisingly, was the year he had a fluke 1.92 ERA. Historically, over 40% of batted balls in play against Franklin are fly balls, so he doesn’t get double plays or even keep the ball in the infield.

At some point, the Cardinals are going to have to move Franklin out of the closer role. I don’t particularly believe in the necessity of a dominant closing pitcher. It’s probably better to leverage individual situations and use the pitcher better suited for the moment. However, I don’t see Tony La Russa–who practically invented the modern closer–moving towards that sort of idea. So whoever has the vaunted “closer” label will see a lot of one run and two run leads. Franklin, who doesn’t have great control and gives up a lot of fly balls, is not who we want out in those situations. He was never who we wanted out there. We just got away with it for a long time. We can’t expect to continue to get away with it.

In game two of the series, Cardinals pitchers managed to give up 11 runs to a lineup that featured Orlando Hudson in the third spot. Westbrook and Motte looked awful, though they didn’t have much help from Ryan Theriot, who looked even worse than expected. I was pining for Brendan Ryan even after he was thrown out on a bone-headed play in Seattle later that day.

Sunday should have been a disaster, too. The Cardinals bats were dead, flailing hopelessly against the ace pitching of Padres’ fifth starter, Dustin Moseley. He looked like Bud Norris out there, inducing weak hit after weak hit. This is the sort of pitcher the Cardinals, even without Holliday, should light up. He’s a perpetually fringe 29 year old righthander with an 89 mph fastball. He has more earned runs in his career than strikeouts. Today, he held the Cardinals to a single tally (not earned) over seven innings. We got four hits off of him, all singles, and if not for Jaime Garcia’s absolute dominance he would have led his team to a sweep.

That’s bad. Real bad. The Cardinals need to improve if they’re going to do anything but break our hearts this season. They have to hit the pitchers everyone else hits. They have to have someone better in the ninth for close games–Jaime Garcia won’t finish it every time. And damn it, they have to be able to field baseballs that are hit between third and first.