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18 April 2011

No More Apologizing for Franklin

This armchair manager has held firm to the idea that St. Louis Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin needed to work out the kinks because they're aren't any better candidates to handle the mental toughness issues of the closing job. But after the ballclub endured the fourth blown save of the young season (in only five opportunities mind you) on Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, even this Franklin apologist cannot support bringing him in such a high-leverage situation any time in the near future.  The time to regroup is now upon us.

A dumbfounded Ryan Franklin,
asea with only his beard
Franklin has been far more effective than pretty in his closing era with the Redbirds.  Relying on his location and savvy with a vast repertoire of pitches, what Franklin has lacked in strikeout ability has always been successfully substituted with the ability to coax weak groundouts from opposing hitters on a minimum of pitches.

Something isn't up to snuff with Franky's stuff this year.  Even when he makes what he thinks are great pitches this season, they are meeting the sweet spot of opponents bats.  Exhibit A: Matt Kemp hitting what Franklin described as a pitcher's pitch a long way into the LA afternoon sunshine.  There is a profound and abnormal lack of movement on Franklin's late inning offerings this season, and that gets him hit hard.  Really, really hard.  And balls hit in the air, too.  Really high up in the air.  Traveling long, long distances in the air.

Mentality So Important
Closing big league games take a special type of mentality.  A closer needs to be tougher between the ears than stronger in the arm.  Confidence is key to get batters to hit your pitch not theirs.  And a short memory is so very important, because all closers get beat in excruciating fashion from time to time.

Leaving such humblings behind to take the ball the next day and get the outs necessary for the win is not something every man can do.  It's something every closer faces at some point in his career.  Some lose their confidence and/or their stuff and lose the closers job.  It's happened before, and it will happen again as long as it is human beings taking the field with their gloves and hats.

Blasting the job he's done, and calling for Franklin's ouster from closer is one thing.  To pin-point a successor is another.  Trading for a reliable replacement is not a real-world answer in mid-April.  Let's take a look at the options available to manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

Miguel Batista - ugh
TLR will most likely fall-back to his usual position in such situations and look to a veteran with experience in the role.  Miguel Batista is the one that fits both those descriptions.  He did have 31 saves in 2005 for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Unfortunately, it took 39 chances to do it.  A quick glance at 41 career saves makes a case, but do the math and you come up with a save rate of 70.6%.  Miggy in the ninth will make Franklin's history in the role look like that of a Hall of Famer.

Jason Motte - meh
Motte has speed on his side.  Unfortunately the straightness of his heat defies the law of physics.  He is extremely capable of allowing the killer walk-offs that currently have Cardinal Nation in a tizzy that he really is unreliable.  Lest we forget, his spectacular failure in the ninth inning of opening day 2009 is the singular event that gave Franklin the closers role.

Eduardo Sanchez - hmmmm
Sanchez has exploded into the Major Leagues with 8 strikeouts in just three innings of work.  First blush, this makes you excited.  But in time, players will get a fix on his stuff and approach and make the subsequent adjustments.  Before I hand such a crucial responsibility on Sanchez, I want to see him get knocked around and come back with the adjustments a professional reliever constantly does.

Fernando Salas - maybe
Salas has been a closer throughout his minor league career.  The focal point of that sentence is "minor league".  This might be his future, but we are dealing with an immediate problem, and there is a more palatable replacement.

Mitchell Boggs - Yes!
Mitchell Boggs
(Source: Getty Images)
Boggs seems to have worked out the slow start caused by a bad back in spring training.  He has heat, and his filthy hard sinker is the envy of the Cardinals pitching staff.  He has some experience in big-league high-leverage situations (though not a saving a one-run lead in the ninth inning).  There is a list in GM John Mozeliak's mind (if not his desk) of pitchers the club planned on grooming this season to eventually replace Franklin as closer, and Boggs is very high on that list.

Boggs has not proven that he has the mental make-up to handle the role, but there is only one way to obtain that proof - throw him in the lake and see if he swims to shore.

If experience is key, Boggs has to get some sometime.  Perhaps as early as Tuesday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He blasted the fans today, too:

BTW, can you take my last name off the UCB list? Thanks

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