Neil Allen and charting the future for Ryan Franklin


Yesterday, our friend, Alex Fritz, asked if there had been another case of a pitcher that had been put on the shelf, as Ryan Frankin has been recently.   Before addressing that, I would recommend that everybody take a look at Alex’s contributions over at SBNation St. Louis.  It is always a good read and helps lighten the mood, especially when the baseball isn’t so good in St. Louis.

As it turns out, there is a very good historical reference for what is going on at the moment with Ryan Franklin.  Fortunately, we only have to back to 1985 to find it.  That pitcher was Neil Allen.

Over at I-70 Baseball, I took a look back at Allen’s 2 years, one month and one day in St. Louis, somewhat anticipating Alex’s question, or one just like it.  With that as background, we can take a look at the difference in how the Cardinals dealt with Miguel Batista and how they will continue to handle Ryan Franklin.

First the aged reliever, and I never was a believer

Miguel Batista

When Miguel Batista came to St. Louis, he was somewhat of a long shot to make the roster.  At age 40, his best years were certainly behind him, and a closer look at some of those years isn’t particularly pretty.  He saved 31 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005, but he also blew 8 more chances.   He followed that up with a pair of solid seasons as a starter with Arizona and Seattle, including a 16 win season with the Mariners.   Once again, a deeper look reveals a pitcher that didn’t strike out a lot of batters, walked far too many, and gave up a lot of hits, with a few too many leaving the park.

Why in the heck did the Cardinals sign Batista in the first place ?   That’s a darn good question.  Many Cardinals fans were hoping that Fernando Salas would make the club out of spring training with Lance Lynn taking the long reliever spot with Miguel Batista being given an opportunity to focus on his second career as a writer.   After a few painful months, we were somewhat vindicated when Batista was given his unconditional release and Lance Lynn called up to replace him in the bullpen.  An extra bit of “I told you so” was thrown around when Lance Lynn pitched three brilliant innings of relief in his first post-Batista appearance.

But why was he signed in the first place ?   Because he was a Tony La Russa kind of veteran.  Batista has been around the block.   He has played in the post-season, although that was a long long time ago (2000 – 2002 with Arizona).   His experience as a closer and starter means that La Russa could use him to spell Ryan Franklin or in a long relief role.  He might even get a spot start, should someone in the rotation go down to injury, or a severe thunderstorm hit at the start of a game.   That’s why Batista was signed, and it’s also why Batista was released.   There are no other Tony La Russa’s in baseball.   Sure, another team might take a chance on him for what remains on the MLB minimum part of his contract, but there are no teams out there thinking that he is the solution to their pitching problems.

Franklin is not Batista

That’s where we have the difference with Ryan Franklin.  Ryan Franklin still has some serviceable time on left on his right arm.   Not with St. Louis, but somewhere – maybe a contender that is having bullpen troubles like the Cardinals.   Rather than throw away the remainder of Ryan Franklin’s 2011 salary, careful management of the veteran might be able to get a useful player in exchange.

Neil Allen’s 1985 woes

Neil Allen's powerful delivery

That’s exactly what happened in 1985 with Neil Allen.   Like Franklin, Allen’s successes in St. Louis always seemed to defy the odds.   So when things turned ugly for him early in 1985, the crowds turned on Allen quickly, and with an unfair fervor.   One thing led to another, and pretty soon there was nothing that Allen could do to win, including that embarrassing (and head-scratching) game lost on a balk.   It was so bad that Allen was even booed in Louisville during an exhibition game between the Cardinals and their AAA affiliate.

General manager Dal Maxvill realized that Allen had to go, if the Cardinals were to stay ahead of the significantly upgraded New York Mets.   It was a difficult task, and it took all of Maxvill’s skills to pull off.   It almost didn’t happen.

After that rough start to the season in New York, Allen stayed in the role of the closer for a few more weeks.  By the end of April, he was in the setup role with Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley taking over the closing duties.   Can we say Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas ?  Anybody ?

Whitey Herzog quit using Allen in games where the Cardinals had a late lead, choosing to use him in losing efforts.   At first they were in games that were still winnable, and that made matters worse.   In a game on May 8, Allen was brought into a game where the Cardinals were down 3-2.  He allowed a pair of runs in the 8th inning, and that put the game out of reach for Herzog’s punch-and-judy lineup.   With a difference of just one run, a walk, stolen base and anything can happen.   Down three runs, it takes a legitimate rally against the other team’s closer.

It got even worse on May 18, against the Houston Astros.   Trailing 4-2 in the eighth inning, the Cardinals did what they do best.  An Ozzie Smith single, stolen base, fly ball and ground out yielded an important run, and brought the Cardinals to within a run, with one inning to play.  Neil Allen allowed two runs in the bottom half of that inning, making the score 6-3.   The Cardinals did manage to rally on this occasion, and scored 2 runs off the Astros bullpen, but fell short because of the runs allowed by Allen the previous inning.  Instead of winning, 5-4, they were just frustrated losers of a 6-5 game.

After this pair of losses, it became clear that there were increasingly few opportunities for Herzog to use Allen.

In June, Allen only managed three appearances: two innings each in a pair of blowouts by Cincinnati, and the gamble of the season.   The Yankees were beginning to express some interest in Allen, so Dal Maxvill decided to showcase Allen in the second game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh.  It was the perfect situation. Pittsburgh was struggling and had won less than 1/3 of their games.  The game was being played far from the increasingly vocal St. Louis crowd.   Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough as Allen lasted just 2 1/3 innings.  He unleashed a hitting fury that also tore up poor Rick Horton, who followed in Allen in the game.   At the end, the Cardinals suffered a devastating 13-2 loss.  Worse, they may have just scared off the Yankees, the only team interested in picking up Allen and the $2M remaining on his 2 year contract.

Allen did not appear in another game in June.   Danny Cox, Joaquin Andujar and John Tudor all managed 6 starts in June, and the struggling Kurt Kepshire got in five.  Neil Allen, just three appearances.   It was a good month for the Cardinals as they would win 19 games, losing 8.  But nearly all of them were too close for Herzog to place the call for Allen, opting to use his other relievers, and even on occasion, to remove Bob Forsch from the rotation.

What about Franklin ?

Ryan Franklin

This is exactly why Ryan Franklin been used sparingly so far in June, and don’t expect that to change much over the coming weeks.   Like Allen in 1985, he is being showcased for a possible trade over the next few weeks.  If not, Franklin would have been placed on the disabled list with some phantom ailment, like a dead arm.   He would then be sent back to work with Dennis Martinez in one of the minor league facilities, to work on whatever is wrong with the right hander.  Another possibility is that he would continue to get into games, working on his mechanics with the big club.   But neither of those has happened which leads us to the conclusion that the Cardinals are no longer interested in Franklin’s future with the team.

An easier road ahead

The Cardinals were eventually able, with some careful workload management, to unload Allen in 1985.   The situation with Franklin in 2011 should be much easier.

First, Ryan Franklin is in the final year of his contract, so the acquiring team has no obligation beyond this season.  That opens up all sorts of of possibilities to replace an injured player on another team.

We might be waving goodbye soon

More important, and something that a lot of Cardinal fans seem to have forgotten, Ryan Franklin has had three outstanding years as the Cardinals closer.  Sure, he is in the declining years of his career, but there should still be some life left in the right arm.   He won’t be a closer again, but should be a good setup man, or perhaps long reliever.   It was hoped that could happen in St. Louis, but enough funky water has passed under the bridge this year for that to happen.   Any possibility of that happening ended when Ryan Franklin ripped the fans in St. Louis.  Of course, he said those things in frustration, but he forgot that we were equally as frustrated, and had been very supportive up to that point.

It will be a very interesting time as we get close to the All Star Game break.  A team hoping to remain in contention might just make a quick move and put together a package that the Cardinals would find acceptable.   That possibility goes up with each good outing.

Oh, and if you think that I am making any of this stuff up, check out Ryan Franklin’s Baseball-reference page.   If you do, scroll down to the bottom and you will find this.

A look at Neil Allen’s page will have a similar entry.  Somewhere, Rod Serling is grinning from ear to ear.

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