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Franklin leads Cards bullpen resurgence

It only seemed appropriate that St. Louis Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin finished off Sunday’s doubleheader and series split with Chicago as well as the traditional first half of the season as we head into the All-Star break.

Number 31 recorded his 21st save of the season backing up Adam Wainwright in Sunday’s 4-2 game two win at Wrigley Field. Franklin struck out all three batters looking that he faced in the inning, increasing his save conversion rate to 95.5 percent (21 of 22).

In the process, Franklin dropped his MLB-leading ERA to 0.79 and most appropriately was named to the National League All-Star Team, his first such recognition at the ripe old baseball age of 36. He comes into the contest on a roll, having been unscored upon in his last 13 games and 16 innings.

Ian Walton pointed out one explanation for the improvement in his recent analysis. “Franklin has become as much more effective pitcher against left-handed batters this season due to a sudden 26.2% usage of the cutter (compared to 2.5% last season) in addition to phasing out his slider.”

It was a job that Franklin did not even own as the season opened. After Jason Motte blew the opening day save and since-traded Chris Perez fumbled some chances, Franklin just quietly took the reins and strengthened his hold on them every time out. The situation was finally so obvious that even manager Tony La Russa had to admit that Franklin had become indeed his closer.

Here are some of Franklin’s impressive results, with his 2008 numbers at the break offered in contrast:

Franklin at 2009 AS break Number Percent Franklin at 2008 AS break Number Percent
Saves/opportunities 20/21 95.5% Saves/opportunities 12/16 75.0%
Inherited runners stranded 9/10 90.0% Inherited runners stranded 5/12 41.7%
First batter retired 30/33 90.9% First batter retired 33/44 75.0%
ERA 0.79 ERA 3.43
Won-loss 2-0 100.0% Won-loss 3-2 60.0%
Strikeouts-to-walks 27-7 3.86:1 Strikeouts-to-walks 27-18 1.50:1

It wasn’t just Franklin last year, as the Cardinals bullpen couldn’t find a reliable ninth-inning man and amassed an amazing total of 31 blown saves, 12 games lost in extra innings and 13 walk-off losses, all MLB-worsts.

Despite a much younger supporting cast in 2009, the stability of the closer has seemed to help the entire pen. Comparing this group to last season’s at the break shows a marked improvement in every measure.

Cards pen at 2009 AS break Number Percent Cards pen at 2008 AS break Number Percent
Saves/opportunities 24/31 77.4% Saves/opportunities 26/48 54.2%
Inherited runners stranded 115/148 77.7% Inherited runners stranded 88/129 68.2%
First batter retired 194/272 71.3% First batter retired 201/288 69.8%
ERA 3.70 ERA 4.29
Won-loss 11-8 57.9% Won-loss 13-20 39.4%

While that is not all due to Franklin, as the leader of the pen, he deserves considerable credit for the solid first-half contribution of the Cardinals relief corps.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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