As a parent, I always knew when it was time to change my daughter’s diaper – there was a very foul odor that you could not ignore. So it is with the Cardinals closer in 2011. And like my daughter’s diaper, it is time for a change – but just the diaper. There’s nothing wrong with the daughter, so we’ll keep her. And so too with Ryan Franklin.
But it is time to make a change, and trimming off that Chinzilla might be a good start. It’s cute when a player has a personal talisman, and he is doing well. When he’s not, it becomes something to fixate on, and Franklin’s chin-thing is an inviting target.
It is too easy to forget that Ryan Frankin has been a dependable closer. Unconventional, iconoclastic – the perfect Tony La Russa chess piece. One that drives conventional thinkers crazy. Like hitting the pitcher eighth, or Albert Pujols third.
In 2009, the Cardinals won the NL Central title, thanks to Ryan Franklin’s 38 saves. He failed to convert 5 save opportunities, but did manage to stick around to win two of those. That 1.92 ERA was spectacular, and his WHIP is in the same ballpark as Heath Bell and Jonathon Broxton. That might make you rethink the pitch-to-contact closer as a legitimate alternative to the ninth inning Terminator. Maybe. For a minute.
Franklin might have even been better in 2010. The bearded one converted 27 of 29 save chances, going 1-1 in the two blown saves. If you take away the fiasco in Colorado on July 6, his ERA drops down to 2.64, which is more indicative of how well he pitched, not the 3.46 he was saddled with.
In six appearances so far in 2011, Franklin has allowed at least one run in all but one outing, his lone save of the year. He has surrendered the lead in four more and the Cardinals are 2-4 in games in which he has appeared. In a tight division like the NL Central, every win is important, and posting a 2-4 record when you were in a position to win all six is not getting it done. If the Cardinals lose the division by two or three games, we might be looking back at the first few weeks of the season, and Tony La Russa’s reluctance to remove Franklin as difference.
Let’s get the ridiculous out of the way first.
Ryan Franklin is not going to be released. That is absurd. He’s going through a rough patch, and it has probably gotten a bit in his head. That’s not a good thing for a closer, but at the same time it is not reason to turn our backs on a player that has contributed so much. Releasing Ryan Franklin makes about as much sense as releasing Albert Pujols when he was hitting .164 in the second week of the season.
Eduardo Sanchez has made quite an impression in his two major league outings. Recording 8 of 9 outs via the strikeout has “future closer” written all over it. But please use a bit of perspective here. Those were blowouts and the the opposition had been completely taken out of the game by time Sanchez entered. There is a Grand Canyon size chasm between that and holding off a one run lead, especially when entering the game with the tying run already in scoring position. The kid has a marvelous arm, and we should watch his development with great enthusiasm. And perhaps thumb our nose at the “professionals” that rank our minor league system near the bottom of the list.
Sanchez needs to face those same type of batters in higher leverage situations. Fernando Salas took over closing duties at Memphis when Pete Parise was injured last May. He showed that he has the makeup of a closer. Time will tell if he has the quality of pitches to retire major league hitters. The best move for the organization will be to keep Salas with the big club as a setup man, and let Sanchez go back to Memphis as the closer. He has a short window of opportunity there because Pete Parise may be back as early as June.
Now for the serious – La Russa’s only choice for a closer is Mitchell Boggs. This is what he has been working toward since being converted from a starter to a max effort hard throwing reliever. He has the pitches, and the only way we’ll know if he has what it takes is to put him there and see what he does. Striking out the side in a 15-5 blowout doesn’t tell anything we don’t already know. It is time for Mitchell Boggs.
The problem we have is Tony La Russa’s fascination with veteran players. Miguel Batista was impressive this spring, and changed a lot of initially negative impressions about him being in the bullpen. For all that we respect about La Russa’s ability to put players in winning positions, sometimes his blinders with respect to young players gets in the way, and this might be one such time. If he goes with a closer by committee or gives Batista the first chance, I will be disappointed, and might jump off the La Russa bandwagon.