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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2009 #8: Franklin the finisher

A big question turned into a strength of the 2009 Cardinals as Ryan Franklin seized the closer’s job and solidified the bullpen.

    The 2008 St. Louis Cardinals missed the post-season for the second consecutive year, something that hadn’t occurred since 1999. A major reason why was a bullpen that could not 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.

    What a difference a year makes. The 2009 relief corps represented one of the strengths of the team, albeit often overlooked in the shadows of National League Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols and Cy Young Award contenders Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.

    Ryan Franklin (AP Photo/Al Behrman)It didn’t begin well.

    Coming into 2009 spring training, manager Tony La Russa declined to name a closer and training camp competition did not clarify the situation. Jason Motte was given the first opportunity and blew the opening day save. Since-traded Chris Perez didn’t step up, so Franklin just quietly took the reins and strengthened his hold every time out. The situation was finally so obvious that before too long into the season, even the cautious La Russa had to admit that Franklin had indeed become his closer.

    Before long, Franklin was most appropriately named to the National League All-Star Team, his first such recognition at the ripe old baseball age of 36. At that point, he was 21 for 22 in save opportunities and had an ERA of 0.79.

    Franklin was named the MLB Delivery Man of the Month in August after converting 11 of 12 chances while not allowing an earned run. On September 1, the Cardinals announced Franklin signed a contract extension for $6.5 million plus incentives covering 2010 and 2011. Feast quickly turned to famine, however. In his ten outings after September 1, Franklin walked ten, yielded 15 hits and allowed seven runs for a 6.75 ERA. He went 2-2 and was just 3-for-6 in save opportunities.

    Despite that month-long late season slump, Franklin and his billy goats gruff facial hair finished with 38 saves, third-best in the league and the best by a Cardinal since 2005. His conversion rate was fifth-best in team history for a closer with 30 or more saves. Franklin placed second in the NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year competition in his first full season as a closer and second among NL closers with his 1.92 ERA.

    Here are some of Franklin’s impressive results in tabular form, with his 2008 numbers offered in contrast. Note how Franklin improved in every category possible in the year-to-year comparisons.

    Franklin 2009 Number Percent
    Franklin 2008 Number Percent
    Saves/opportunities 38/43 88.4% Saves/opportunities 17/25 68.0%
    Inherited runners stranded 14/16 87.5% Inherited runners stranded 13/22 59.1%
    First batter retired 45/62 72.6% First batter retired 52/74 70.3%
    ERA 1.92 ERA 3.55
    Won-loss 4-3 57.1% Won-loss 6-6 50.0%
    Strikeouts-to-walks 44/24 1.83:1 Strikeouts-to-walks 51/30 1.70:1

    Even with a much younger supporting cast in 2009, the stability of the closer undoubtedly solidified the entire pen. Comparing this group to last season’s again demonstrates a marked improvement in every measure.

    Cardinals bullpen 2009 Number Percent
    Cardinals bullpen 2008 Number Percent
    Saves/opportunities 43/58 74.1% Saves/opportunities 42/73 57.5%
    Inherited runners stranded 187/245 76.3% Inherited runners stranded 165/226 73.0%
    First batter retired 341/480 71.0% First batter retired 330/498 66.3%
    ERA 3.67 ERA 4.20
    Won-loss 22-18 55.0% Won-loss 22-31 41.5%

    While that is not all due to Franklin, as the leader of the pen, he deserves considerable credit for the solid 2009 contribution of the Cardinals relief corps.

    La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan attributed Franklin’s late season woes to fatigue from pitching too frequently. They are interested in acquiring another bullpen veteran who could step in and close during those days when Franklin would be unavailable in 2010.

    Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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