to be perfectly franklin

couple of good diary discussions underway this morning: should cards extend eckstein? and should they still try to sign weaver? the cards apparently are trying hard to do the latter, per this morning's post-dispatch. the article says the cards aren't willing to go longer than two years with weaver, an intelligent position; we'll see how it plays out.

i don't want to discuss either topic in this thread --- head over to the respective diaries for that. but the weaver situation provides a good lead-in to a discussion of the rhsp the cardinals have just signed: ryan franklin. he's not my type of pitcher --- low strikeout rate, baserunners all over the place, seems to hang on by the skin of his teeth. i sense that he comes across as a ticking time bomb every time he goes out there. mariner fans (where he pitched for 3 years) detest the guy; in this post he's referred to as a "rubber arm who takes the hill every 5 days and eliminates your chance to win the game". of course, that particular post sings the praises of rodrigo lopez . . . . one man's trash, another man's treasure.

maybe that's all i'm engaging in here. i didn't have to watch franklin stink up the joint for two years, as mariner fans did; i didn't have to watch him lose 31 games in two seasons (2004-05). accordingly, i don't have any gut-level disgust for the guy; i'm not yet so weary of his faults that i've become blind to his attributes. what, exactly, does this guy bring to the table?

to answer that, let me make a simple comparison. let's compare ryan franklin's last season as a starter, 2005 (he pitched in relief last season and compiled a league-average era), to that of a familiar and well-regarded pitcher, jeff suppan. franklin's stats are as a starting pitcher only:

gs ip h bb so hr | avg obp slg h9 bb9 k9 hr9 whip | era
franklin 05 30 187 209 61 93 28 | .281 .342 .455 10.0 2.9 4.5 1.3 1.444 | 5.15
suppan 06 32 190 207 69 104 21 | .277 .345 .440 9.8 3.2 4.9 1.0 1.453 | 4.12

hmmmm. roughly the same number of innings; nearly identical rate stats; yet franklin's era is a full run higher than suppan's. . . . what's up with that? let's look at this a little more closely:

era fip erc ra
franklin 05 5.15 5.22 4.85 5.25
suppan 06 4.12 4.76 4.62 4.74

"fip," for those of you unfamiliar with this concept, stands for fielding-independent pitching; it attempts to separate those things which a pitcher can truly control (striking guys out, avoiding walks, keeping the ball in the park) from the things that lie largely or entirely outside his control (whether a ball in play lands within reach of a fielder). in this category, the diff'nce between suppan and franklin shrinks by half. "erc" stands for component era, a bill james invention (explained here) that predicts era based on a pitcher's rate of hr, hits, and walks allowed. here the diff'nce between suppan and franklin shrinks to less than a fourth of a run; almost nothing, really --- a handful of runs over a full season.

finally there's the "ra" column, which is simply total runs per 9 innings, with no distinction between "earned" and "unearned" runs. the distinction is increasingly anachronistic; a run is a run, and it counts just as much whether it's earned or unearned. in suppan's case the distinction is particularly misleading, because he yields a ton of unearned runs every season. he coughed up 11 in 2006 (vs ryan franklin's 2 unearned runs in 2005), or 27 percent of the cardinals' team total; he threw only 13 percent of the innings. in 2005, supps allowed 16 unearned runs (22 percent of the team total); in 2004 he allowed 11 (or 21 percent). is suppan simply unlucky? not hardly; as demonstrated both by rich lederer at Baseball Analysts and david gassko at The Hardball Times, groundball pitchers like suppan are more prone to yield unearned runs than flyball pitchers like franklin. that's because 85 percent of all errors are committed on groundballs. if you give up more grounders, you have more errors committed behind you --- and, accordingly, you give up more unearned runs. as gassko put it,

Since ground ball pitchers are so susceptible to errors, they're bound to see a lot more unearned runs. It's not bad defense that's resulting in those runs being unearned, but rather the pitcher's ground ball tendencies.
supps did pitch around that error scott rolen committed in the bottom of the 6th in game 7 vs the mets, and did it masterfully; the guttiest pitching of the whole off-season, imho. i'll never forget that. but his total run-yielding propensity is always higher than his era would suggest; as a groundball pitcher who always has a lot of men on base, his high unearned-run rate can be expected to (and does) recur from year to year. in the end, suppan 06 yielded only 9 fewer runs than ryan franklin 05 (100 vs 109) over about the same number of innings; that translates into 1 game in the standings.

what i'm arguing here, in essence, is that ryan franklin is almost as good as jeff suppan.

for those of you who aren't doubled over laughing or face-down in the toilet, retching, let's broaden the sample. we'll compare supps' three years in st louis vs franklin's last three years as a starter in seattle:

gs ip h bb so hr | avg obp slg h9 bb9 k9 hr9 whip | era fip erc ra
franklin 03-05 94 599 632 183 296 95 | .272 .332 .453 9.5 2.8 4.4 1.4 1.361 | 4.51 5.31 4.59 4.78
suppan 04-06 95 572 605 197 328 70 | .273 .338 .432 9.5 3.1 5.2 1.1 1.402 | 3.95 4.80 4.49 4.58

i don't see a huge amount of difference here. franklin gives up fewer baserunners and fewer unearned runs but allows more homers; it mostly comes out in the wash. over these three seasons, the total number of runs scored off suppan was 291; vs franklin, the number was 318. again, the difference is about 10 runs per season, or 1 win in the standings. and we haven't even talked about the fact that franklin achieved these rough equivalencies while pitching in a dh league, with less run support and a weaker supporting cast. take franklin out of the american league, out of the losing organization for which he pitched, and give him the same advantages suppan has enjoyed the last three years --- steady run support, a good defense, duncan/la russa, a reliable bullpen --- and he might become just as serviceable a starting pitcher as suppan was the last three years. not a star; not a #2. but a guy who can chew innings and serve the team well at the back of the rotation.

if the cardinals could have gotten suppan back on a 1-year, $2m contract (which is what franklin will earn if he makes 29 starts), wouldn't all of us have been thrilled? it's very possible they have more or less done that.

since jeff weaver is on the sports page today, here's a 3-year comparison of ryan franklin vs jeff weaver:

gs ip h bb so hr | avg obp slg h/9 bb/9 k/9 hr/9 whip | era fip erc ra
franklin 03-05 94 599 632 183 296 95 | .272 .332 .453 9.5 2.8 4.4 1.4 1.361 | 4.51 5.31 4.59 4.78
weaver 04-06 95 616 652 157 417 88 | .271 .327 .448 9.5 2.3 6.0 1.3 1.313 | 4.57 4.68 4.49 4.84

obviously weaver's stats are somewhat skewed by his one bad season; despite what these numbers say, i think he's a better pitcher than ryan franklin. if the cardinals can get weaver for two years at reasonable money, they probably should. but franklin gives them additional leverage in those negotiations. even if he pitches at the top of his game, weaver is only a game to game-and-a-half upgrade over franklin.

i leave you with one final comparison. five years ago at midseason, the cardinals picked up a pitcher not unlike ryan franklin --- 34 years old, flyball pitcher, sub-.500 career record. compare franklin to that pitcher's record in the 2.5 seasons leading up to his acquisition by st louis:

gs ip h bb so hr | avg obp slg h9 bb9 k9 hr9 whip | era fip erc ra
franklin 03-05 94 599 632 183 296 95 | .272 .332 .453 9.5 2.8 4.4 1.4 1.361 | 4.51 5.31 4.59 4.78
woody 99-01 79 521 535 164 350 84 | .267 .325 .457 9.2 2.8 6.0 1.4 1.342 | 4.35 4.83 3.85 4.63

i'm not suggesting that franklin is going to become the next woody williams; he's not. but the cardinals don't need him to. they just need him to be a competent #5 pitcher for half a season or so, and franklin's numbers are similar enough to supps' and woody's that he should be able to succeed in that limited role. the only real reason to object to this signing is that franklin probably will take an opportunity away from brad thompson, who is just as good but has more upside. it's said thompson will have an opportunity to compete for the job in spring training, but unless franklin pitches horribly down in jupiter he's gonna get the job. also, i guess i'm now a little worried that when mulder returns at midseason and somebody's got to leave the rotation, franklin will be deemed too valuable to get rid of --- and the odd man out will be one of the kids, ie reyes back to memphis or wainwright back to the bullpen. i'll refrain from bitching about that until it happens; if it does play out that way, it probably will mean that the cardinal rotation is in pretty good shape.

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