How long can the Cardinals stick with Ryan Franklin as the closer?

While the Cardinals improved to 3-6 today, it’s still very frustrating that they could easily be 6-3 or 5-4.  There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the fact is that the Cardinals do not have a dominant closer.  For the amount of runs they’ve scored, most fans might think we are lucky to be 3-6.  However, with the solid starting pitching we’ve received, it’s really a shame that 3-6 is where we’re at.

I like pitchers that are able to get a good amount of strikeouts.  If you look over the history of the game, the most dominating pitchers are usually the ones who are able to have an out pitch, not allowing a ball to be put into play.  I also think that strikeouts can be a bit overrated sometimes; it all depends on the pitcher.  Javier Vasquez is one of those guys that defy the odds most years.  I like what Dave Duncan has been able to do with some of the Cardinal staffs over the years.  Still, the best pitchers Duncan has had has still been able to throw the ball by someone when the situation called for it.

I realize that most of this is common sense to most readers, but I still see a lot of blind support out there for Ryan Franklin.  As I’ve mentioned many times now, Franklin makes me nervous every time he’s on the mound, especially when the Cardinals only have a one run lead.  The support for Franklin starts with the broadcast booth, as you will hear Al Hrabosky talk about the 7 pitches that Franklin can throw every time he’s on the mound.  Al, just stop it.  It makes no difference if Franklin has 7 pitches if he can’t get the for sure strikeout or ground ball when needed.  Does Mariano Rivera fall short of success because he throws the same pitch 90% of the time?  That’s the real question to ask.  Trevor Hoffman was successful for 15 years with 2 dominant pitches. 

I’m not just comparing Franklin against the best closers of all time.  Go to any year and look at the top 10 closers in MLB and almost all of them will have at least a SO/9 rate of 8 or better.  You will find one or two instances of flash in the pan closers in certain years, such as Ryan Franklin in 2009.  Also, 2009 was Franklin’s highest SO/9 rate in his career at 6.5.  It’s not a coincidence that the closers to get those high strikeout rates are at the top.  Too many bad things can happen when hitters put the ball in play late in a game.   As Cardinal fans, we are seeing that now.

I don’t expect Franklin’s percentage of closing games to remain at 25%.  I’m not trying to be hard on Franklin either.  The fact is that he shouldn’t be put in a closers role.  My stance will continue to be that the Cardinals should let Albert Pujols walk and spend the money on other needs in the future.  Hopefully they start with a closer.  Let’s not forget that the only World Series win for Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals has been when he had Adam Wainwright closing in 2006.  In the playoffs that year, Wainwright had a SO/9 rate of 14.7 in the NLDS, 12 in the NLCS and 15 in the WS.  If Carlos Beltran puts that ball in play in game 7 of the NLCS, do the Cardinals even make it to the WS?

I’m not ready to panic yet on the 2011 season.  For anyone who wants to call me out, my response will be the same about Ryan Franklin as it always has been.  It’s been smoke and mirrors.  Even when he does get the job done, there’s usually at least one ball that was scorched off the opposing batter to a Cardinal defender.

I still think the Cardinals offense is going to come around and actually be a pretty good one.  Ryan Franklin is going to get plenty of save opportunities and plenty of saves.  He’s going to have a lot of 2 and 3 run leads.  However, the fact will remain that Franklin’s pitches don’t have great (if much at all) movement on them.  The league has seen Franklin now, and while the more a batter sees a pitcher usually helps the batter, I’m afraid the case will be even more so in Franklin’s case.  I’m not sure if the Cardinals have a better internal option.  I would personally like to see Mitchell Boggs have a chance.  He has the stuff to be dominant, but he does lack control a lot of times.   Unless Ryan Franklin goes down with an injury, I just don’t see LaRussa demoting him.

If the Cardinals do end up making the playoffs, how many of you actually feel comfortable and confident in Franklin being a closer on a championship team?  I think it’s great that Franklin still has confidence and wants to be out there.  He’s got a good mound presence and normally has great control.  He is among the lead leaders during his time as a closer in allowing walks.  The fact will remain however that Franklin has to rely on the ball being put into play.  The NL Central is not as weak as years past.  The Reds, Brewers and Cubs all have powerful offensive threats.  For the Cardinals to make the playoffs, Franklin is going to have to come through in one run games at some point, and he’s going to have to do it on a regular basis.  I want to think the best and things are bound to improve, but all of our patience is being tested and will continue to be tested.

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3 Responses to How long can the Cardinals stick with Ryan Franklin as the closer?

  1. jstone says:

    JD,

    On occasion, you and I are in total agreement. This is one of those times. In 2009 Frankin’s line was not at all consistent with what you would expect. While he has continued to be relatively effective, he has not been able to repeat the level of performance we saw in 2009.

    I often argue with your old teammate Brandon McIntyre about how important a closer is (he believes closing is overrated and that basically anyone not named Mariano Rivera is pretty much the same). I disagree — having an elite closer is critical — especially if you are in a lot of one or two run games.

    I guess the problem is that there’s not much the Cardinals can do. Finding an elite-level closer is hard, and there are only about six or eight in MLB with a lengthy track record of being reliable and consistent. There are a lot of guys who, like Franklin, had a big year or two, but not many who have performed at a high level for a bunch of years. You know Tony, though, and he’ll stick with Franklin for a while, even if he struggles. That’s the right thing to do until a better option comes along. Motte has closer stuff, but he’s not ready yet. His day may end up coming before he’s ready…

    Jordan

  2. JD says:

    Jordan,

    Glad to hear you agree. I just read Tony’s comments in the Post about the Cards not having a better option than Franklin this morning. I really wish he wouldn’t have made those comments when he has yet to try someone else in the role yet, specifically Boggs. As far as Motte is concerned, I’m not so sure he will ever be able to get the job done. His control can be so far off sometimes, as well as the fact that his fastball lacks movement. His secondary pitches aren’t anywhere close as well.

    The one thing that bugs me about Tony is that if Franklin were a young player, his days of closing would be over. The blind faith starts with him. Like I said, even when Franklin gets the job done is too much of a roller coaster of an inning. I’m not sure if B. Mac is really watching the games if he doesn’t agree. Tell him to stick with coaching distance running. Anyway, good to hear from you, take it easy…

    • jstone says:

      Well you are right about blind faith with TLR. I was always an Isringhausen fan, but Izzy (who was a far better closer than Ryan Franklin) kept Cards fans on the absolute edge of their seats by almost always giving up a hit and a walk before closing the game out. Tony kept going to him, in truth probably months after Izzy has lost all sign of being effective. I expect him to do the same with Franklin. Boggs is a viable option, there, and I expect he will get some looks, but Tony will ride Franklin until a step from eternity.

      JS

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