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franklin, my dear

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a number of times during the season, i argued that ryan franklin ought to be starting. the cardinals signed him to compete for a spot in the rotation, i pointed out; he was used as a starter during spring training, throwing 3- to 4-inning stints; and he spent 3 and a half years as a starting pitcher for the seattle mariners, with tolerable results. here are his career stats as a starting pitcher, encompassing 106 starts; for context, i've included the stats of several comparable pitchers (familiar names, most of them) over their most recent 106 starts:

franklin 6.1 9.5 2.6 4.4 1.4 4.45 1.347
suppan 6.0 10.0 3.1 5.0 1.0 4.18 1.457
morris 6.1 9.9 2.4 5.2 1.0 4.66 1.370
marquis 6.0 9.3 3.4 4.8 1.3 4.80 1.412
pineiro 6.1 10.1 2.8 5.7 1.2 5.11 1.423
wo williams 6.0 9.7 2.6 5.4 1.4 4.51 1.362
batista 6.1 9.7 3.9 5.3 0.9 4.60 1.516
silva 6.1 10.8 1.3 3.5 1.2 4.40 1.342
liv hernandez 6.2 10.2 3.2 5.0 1.2 4.46 1.489

the first several names on the list are all former cardinal pitchers of the glorious recent past; the last few are free agents they could have signed/re-signed last year or might be able to sign this year. i ask the question: if you already have ryan franklin under contract for $2.5m, why would you pay $8m to $10m a year for one of these other guys? admittedly, franklin will earn incentive bonuses for every start he makes over 20 games; i don't know what those bonuses are, but let's say that he can double his salary if he starts 32 games; that would amount to a bonus of $200,000 per start. for $5m, the cards can get roughly the same performance they'd get from those other pitchers, at half the rate other teams are paying --- and apply the savings to improvements elsewhere on the roster.

let me anticipate a couple of counterarguments. here's the first: if you use him to plug a hole in the rotation, it just opens another hole in the setup-man position. he was very good as a setup man, so why move him?, the same objections were raised last year to the idea of moving wainwright to the rotation; the bullpen will suffer, he's unproven as a starter, etc etc. setup men are not that hard to find --- the cards plucked one off the scrap pile in 2007 and out of triple A in 2006. in my opinion, todd wellemeyer ought to be a strong contender for that job --- as documented here, he was unhittable in relief after joining the cardinals (sample-size warning: only 16 innings). russ springer might be up to it, josh kinney might come back healthy, and undoubtedly there will be another ryan franklin lurking at the bottom of the free agent heap (i haven't checked the list).

the second counterargument is this: in his last two years as a starter (2004-05), franklin was awful: a combined 12-31 record with a 4.99 era. those are fair points; here's my response. first, as we all know by now, pitcher won-loss records have to be placed into context; they don't always mean what they seem to. ryan franklin in 2004 had an era nearly identical to that of javier vazquez (4.90 and 4.91, respectively) and park-adjusted era+ (88 vs 92, respectively), but franklin went 4-16 while vazquez went 14-10. that's because franklin pitched for the mariners, who finished last in the al in scoring, while vazquez pitched for the yankees, who finished 2d in scoring. jeremy bonderman also had results nearly identical to franklin's (4.89 era, 92 era+), but he went 11-13 for the tigers (8th in scoring); bartolo colon's era was 5.01 that year and his era+ was 92, but he went 18-12 for the angels (7th in scoring). franklin's won-loss was so bad that year that he got a bad rap; and when he posted similar numbers the next year and finished with an 8-15 record (for a team that finished 15th in the league in scoring), he was deemed a terrible pitcher. and he wasn't terrible --- not particularly good, mind you, but only a shade under league average.

a second point about franklin's lines in 2004-05 is that they are pretty similar to a year we currently consider to be an acceptably good one --- braden looper's 2007 campaign. see for yourself:

looper 2007 6.0 9.4 2.6 4.5 1.1 4.94 1.337
franklin 2005 6.0 10.0 2.9 4.4 1.3 5.10 1.437
franklin 2004 6.1 10.1 2.7 4.7 1.5 4.90 1.423

we've been talking about the cardinals' need to find stopgaps --- players who can keep the team reasonably competitive for the next couple of years without tying up resources (ie, $$$ and opportunity). franklin looks to meet all the criteria. i think he can be a reliable #4 starter, a species that has been extinct in st louis since 2005, and he can do it for reasonable pay. plug him in alongside wainwright and looper, and there's 3/5 of your rotation --- not a great rotation, mind you, but those three could be close to league average as a group. that's almost 600 league-average innings for $12m, a savings of about $15m. . . . . . lot you can do with $15m if you spend it creatively.