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).

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.

The Hits Keep on (not) Coming

Tony La Russa threw a tantrum during his post-game press conference today. Reporters were asking him the questions that were on the minds of Cards fans everywhere. Why isn’t the team hitting? His response, via this STLtoday.com article:

For everybody listening out there (TV audience), you think I’m being unreasonable? It’s the FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON. I don’t understand this. Are you going to tell me Yadier doesn’t drive in big runs? Are you going to tell me Albert can’t hit? Are you going to tell me the second baseman and shortstops haven’t hit? David Freese? You don’t think he’s going to hit? You think Matt’s gong to hit? You think Colby’s going to hit? You think Berkman’s going to hit? The answer is ‘no’ to all those things?’

Did you (interrogators) accomplish your goal? Three, four times, you ask so I get excited and get upset? That’s not fair. It really isn’t.

Then he walked away. You could say he was a little irritated.

Angry Red Birds

Artist's Rendition of Tony La Russa's Press Conference

I understand that this is a frustrating time for TLR. It’s a frustrating time for everyone who wants to see the Cardinals win. And I’m sure that TLR wants to see them win as much as anyone, though playing Skip Schumaker at 2B is a funny way of showing it. The anger, however, is uncalled-for. That’s because this slump is absolutely mystifying. Every pitcher we face has turned into Bud Norris.

The reporters have every right to ask their questions. Yes, it is only the first six games. But the first six games count just as much as the last six games. This has also been the first six games for the Padres and Pirates pitchers. Maybe they didn’t get the memo that these games don’t matter.

It’s a small sample size, obviously. But the numbers are so bad and the pitchers in question are so bad that it has to call something into question. Let’s look at some of the lowlights:

In these first six games, the Cardinals had 8 extra base hits. This number is remarkably low. The Houston Astros, the worst hitting team in the NL last season, averaged about 2.4 XBH a game. Houston slugged .362 last year, the Cards are struggling around .300. In this same time, the Cards have 10 GIDP. They are more likely to get doubled up with a man on first than drive him home with a 2b, 3b, or HR. Last year, the Giants led the league by hitting into a double play almost once a game. The Cardinals are on pace to double that.

But as I already pointed out, it’s a small sample size. The Cardinals won’t slug below .300 or hit into 300 double plays. That would be historically terrible. Even the 1899 Cleveland Spiders slugged .305. BUT consider the starting pitchers the Cardinals have faced in these six games:

Tim Stauffer: A 28 year old with 39 career starts. Stauffer has spent most of his career in the bullpen, amassing a 4.04 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in spacious Petco. He throws around 90 mph. A former 4th pick overall, he’s got a nice breaking ball but not much else.
Clayton Richard: Arguably a left-handed Tim Stauffer. Has similar stuff and has put together a career 4.28 ERA, 1.44 WHIP. Struggles with control a bit more than Stauffer, but has a slightly better K/9. Relies more on his fastball. Richard at least had a decent season in 2005 (again, getting his home starts in Petco). In fact neither Stauffer or Richard are particularly bad pitchers. They’re just mediocre.The real crap starts with…
Dustin Moseley: 5.13 ERA, 1.49 WHIP in his career. 4.57 xFIP. K/9 under 5. Doesn’t have any dominant pitches. Doesn’t make up for it with stellar control. Shut down the Cards completely for 7 innings.
Charlie Morton: Maybe the worst. 5.88 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 4.54 xFIP. Hits around 91-92 with his fastball and according to fangraphs, he threw 85% fastballs in his game against the Cards. Despite this, he walked 5 batters. He only gave up 1 run. He’s not a power pitcher. He was throwing mainly one pitch. He wasn’t locating that pitch. Five walks, two strikeouts, one run. FUCK.
James McDonald: The fact that he’s the Pirates 5th starter should say everything. The Cardinals didn’t figure him out, but they didn’t get shut down like he was Charlie Morton. They managed 2 runs in 4.2 innings. Still… He’s the Pirates 5th starter.
Kevin Correia: 4.55 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 4.47 xFIP. Gives up a lot of fly balls. Unlike the other guys the Cards faced, has a much longer record of mediocrity. There’s probably a decent amount of video tape on him in the Cards’ library, too. Still managed to shutout the Cards.

So that’s it. Those are the six starters who have given the Cardinals fits over the last six games. Yes, TLR, it’s only six games. It’s only the first six games of the season. But what is this team going to do when it faces Roy Halladay? Cliff Lee? Tim Lincecum? We put up historically bad numbers against six mediocre-to-awful pitchers. We didn’t hit a single one of them hard. Not one.

That’s why there were so many questions at the press conference today. The reporters’ goal wasn’t to get TLR upset. They were concerned, because this “FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON” has been absolutely terrible.

I Don’t Even Know Where to Begin

I confess, I am a bad baseball fan. When Felipe Lopez grounded into that double play to end the ninth inning, I just assumed the game was over. I didn’t expect the bullpen to be able to throw another shutout inning, let alone seven of them. I left to go out to dinner, expecting that Motte would come in throwing fastball after fastball and give up a merciful home run.

And now I kind of wish he did, because the game was still on when I came home two hours later. I hurried through the box score and the play by play, discovering strange move after strange move by Tony La Russa, baserunning gaffes, and the beginning of a scoreless inning by Felipe Lopez.

There’s really too much to write about and I’m sure that other places will cover it far more in depth. Better fans, fans who didn’t have plans that evening, can tell the story with far more detail and insight than me.

I will say this, though. La Russa made some mistakes and he’s getting toasted for it by the fans. However, no manager plans for a 20 inning game.

I go back and forth on whether I like La Russa. He makes some infuriating decisions, but so does pretty much every manager in baseball. Whenever he fouls up, I remember he’s not serial career destroyer Dusty Baker. He’s not Joe Girardi, who would have found a way to keep Adam Wainwright in the bullpen after 2006. He’s not Trey Hillman, who will undoubtedly use Yuniensky Betancourt’s strong first week to keep him in the lineup all season.

La Russa has been with the Cardinals for so long, he’s the devil I know. He’s going to make too many bullpen moves. He tries a different lineup every day. He keeps his backup catcher in an undisclosed location just in case Yadier Molina’s plane goes down. He thinks that a “surprise hit and run” is a good idea and not what got Josh Hancock killed. And he fucked up last night.

I’d still rather have him than risk who he could be replaced with.