Headed into spring training, Ryan Franklin was considered to be the back-up plan to the back-up plan for the closer’s job in St. Louis. Coming off of a middling season in what has been a mostly middling career; Ryan Franklin is hardly anyone’s idea of a typical closer. No, Franklin’s job more or less was to mentor and set-up for rookie flame-throwers Chris Perez and Jason Motte. Instead, Perez became expendable, and Motte gave up a four-spot against the Pirates on Opening Day. Mr. Awesome Chin-Hair has been the de facto closer ever since. And now, he’s an All-Star.
Franklin has all the nifty baseball-card stats – he’s leading all qualified major league relievers in ERA (0.84). He has 20 saves in 21 tries. He is just one-tenth of a point behind the NL leader (Jonathan Broxton) in a non-baseball card stat — Situational Wins (WPA/LI) – at 1.30. So from that standpoint at least, one can make an argument for Franklin being all-star worthy. (I’m not saying I agree with it. You’d be hard-pressed to argue Franklin over Vazquez, Gallardo, Ubaldo…) So what gives? Can Franklin keep this up?
Looking at his pitch selection, he’s a cutter convert. He’s seldom thrown one before. Franklin has never been afraid to experiment with different pitches, he is even known to occasionally throw a knuckleball. With the cutter he seems to be enjoying some success. Franklin has gone from throwing a slider 23% of the time last year to a cutter 27% of the time this year. Now before you cry “screwy pitch classification”, it is a true-blue cutter. Firstly, his slider last year was an 85 MPH pitch on average last year. This pitch is 89 MPH. The pitch also has 3 inches of higher vertical movement than his slider. To clench the nail, we also have Ryan Franklin himself saying he’s ditched the slider in favor of the cutter.
(Referring to his cutter) “It’s become a real weapon for me. I have a lot more consistency with it, which means I’m more confident. A lot of times when I got hurt last season it was with the slider…”
In terms of effectiveness, it doesn’t quite explain Franklin’s breakout. Really, it’s his curveball that’s been his most effective pitch, and it’s basically the same curve he’s always thrown, he’s just throwing it a lot more — 20%, or twice as much as he threw it last year. Both may have led to an increase in whiffs, as he’s striking out more batters than ever before at 6.75 K/9. That’s hardly a dominant rate for a closer, but for Franklin I suppose that’s pretty darn good. Where Franklin has really shined is demonstrated by his walk rate; he’s giving up just under two free passes per nine innings.
There is however one underlying factor that overrides all, and that’s lots of lucky goatee grease:
Given Franklin’s history, lucky hit rate and strand rate, his projections call for him to come back to earth and post a 4.10 FIP the rest of the season. He’s been good, and some of that may have to do with pitch selection, but there is no way he’s this good. The Cardinals are somehow hoping Franklin can keep the lucky fuzz keeps working, because there’s no one ready to claim the role of relief ace in that bullpen.
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