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Game 105 Open Thread: August 2, 2007

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1-10, 6.11

2-3, 4.66

GAME TIME 11:35 am CDT

the cardinals' comeback mojo was in tacoma last night, where the memphis redbirds came back from an 8-run deficit to win 16-13. another grisly outing for blake hawksworth (8 runs in an inning and a third), but the redbirds redeemed it by scoring in 8 of the 9 innings; tagg bozied's grand slam in the 7th inning (his 2d hr of the game) put memphis ahead for good.

a few other minor matters, as long as we're glancing at the farm system: cody haerther is back with a vengeance (2 hr in 2 games since his return to springfield); tyler henley has 4 hits (and a steal) in his first 7 at-bats for batavia; and pete kozma moved up to johnson city. another new arrival at JC is colombian teenager andres rosales, who posted a 0.43 era for the gcl cardinals and struck out 11.1 men per 9 innings. (last year in the dominican summer league he fanned 14.4 men per 9.) he took a no-decision in his JC debut, 5 innings 2 runs; this guy's progress seems worth tracking. more info on all the above at Future Redbirds.

as for the big-league club, two words: ryan franklin. when, oh when, will they put this guy into the rotation? i've been making this case since june --- and that was before the club took its desperate flyers on tomo ohka, mike maroth, and joel piniero. here the team is, still trying to make some semblance of a run at first place, dead last in the nl in era, and turning over every chunk of rubble in the mlb slag heap hoping that a still-breathing starter will crawl out . . . . and the guy who was signed this off-season to provide rotation depth hasn't been mentioned once by the manager as a candidate to start a game. i've heard lots of arguments about why franklin can't or shouldn't be moved to the rotation, or why he might not be fit for it, and i reject them all. let's run through a few of these:

franklin was never a very good starter. that's true, as far as it goes: in his three full seasons as a starter (2003-05) he was 23-44 with a 4.49 era. but let's compare his record to those (for the same years) of some of the other pitchers the cardinals have entrusted the ball to this year:

franklin 23-44 4.49 1.358 1.61
wells 23-34 4.26 1.435 1.64
maroth 34-48 4.90 1.405 1.94
piniero 29-33 4.66 1.358 2.11

it's not like these other guys were vastly superior from 2003-05; all were as lacking in merit as franklin. but i'd take him over any of the others for a simple reason: franklin has pitched circles around them in 2006-07:

franklin 10-7 3.21 1.246 1.74
wells 6-18 5.94 1.661 1.38
maroth 10-8 5.52 1.649 1.10
piniero 9-14 6.13 1.643 1.37

franklin has pitched exclusively from the bullpen the last couple of years; the others have pitched primarily in the rotation, and/or have been hurt. that explains part, but not all, of the discrepancy in performance; relievers tend to have better eras than starters. but piniero got the exact same opportunity as franklin this spring (to throw late-inning relief for a contender) and pitched himself out of the league. the other two pitchers have been so supremely awful as starting pitchers the last couple of years that it's hard to imagine franklin doing any worse --- and based on his effectiveness as a reliever, i would expect him to do much better. however limited he may be, he's still an improvement over all the aviailable alternatives.

if franklin moves to the rotation, the only part of the team that actually works --- the bullpen --- will be undermined. poppycock. the st louis setup role has been in constant transition for almost two years, ever since two-year incumbent julian tavarez left following the 2005 season and al reyes went down with an arm injury. wainwright, kinney, and franklin have all held the setup job in the ensuing months; each, after getting established in the role, came to be regarded as an immovable pillar, just as tavarez and reyes were. but when each guy was displaced for this reason or that, the house never toppled; somebody else --- usually somebody unheralded --- took over and always pitched just as well, if not better. there's plenty of depth to back franklin up if he leaves the bullpen; troy percival or russ springer (or both) can handle the 8th, with assistance from flores and ty johnson as necessary. the bullpen is the cardinals' one and only source of depth; they ought to be drawing upon it to shore up weaker parts of the team.

franklin can't start, because his arm isn't conditioned for it --- it's conditioned for relief. this is the explanation dave n tony trotted out last summer when reporters asked why adam wainwright (clearly one of the 5 best starting pitchers during spring training) wasn't moved from the bullpen to stabilize a crumbling rotation. it was a convenient excuse back then, but they can't use it this year because brad thompson and todd wellemeyer already have "re-conditioned" their bullpen-only arms for a midseason move to the rotation. joel piniero is being asked to do the same thing. if those guys can do it, there's no reason franklin can't.

franklin's success as a reliever won't translate to the rotation because he's only good for one time through the order. this is the most serious argument against the idea of franklin-as-starter; it might well be true that franklin's effectiveness this year has been exaggerated by the fact that he almost never has to face a batter twice in one game. the obvious way to test that argument is to look at his splits by trip through order and by pitch count from 2003-05, when he was starting 30 games a year. here they are, aggregated:

1st time thru order .274 .343 .449 1.65 26 pitch 1-25 .284 .351 .465 1.38 24
2d time .255 .316 .426 1.49 26 pitch 26-50 .243 .307 .410 1.57 28
3d time .285 .336 .480 1.69 23 pitch 51-75 .278 .327 .452 2.00 25
pitch 76-100 .284 .333 .488 1.91 21
pitch 101+ .279 .375 .452 0.94 26

the theory doesn't wash. as a starter, franklin's numbers the 3d time through order weren't a whole lot worse than his line for the 1st time through, and his stats for the 2d time through were the best of the bunch. likewise, franklin got nearly identical results on pitches 1-25 and 76-100 of a given game; his performance improved on pitches 26-75. looks like your basic 6-inning, 3-run pitcher. . . . . . on the 2007 st louis cardinals, that makes you cy young.

when walt signed this guy back in january, i thought it was a shrewd pickup --- a pitcher who can eat innings about as effectively as suppan or weaver, but for a fraction of the cost. i even compared him to woody williams; to refresh your memory, here's franklin's 2003-05 line as a starting pitcher vs woody's line in the 3 years leading up to his trade to stl:

franklin 03-05 94 .272 .332 .453 23-44 4.49 1.358
woody 99-01 79 .267 .325 .457 30-28 4.35 1.342

woody joined the cardinals exactly six years ago today and (as val so ably documented yesterday) helped fortify a floundering rotation. franklin could help do the same for the 2007 staff, which is even more desperate for reinforcements --- good ones, as opposed to total crapshoots (maroth / piniero / wellemeyer / ohka). if he did move to the rotation, how many wins would he be worth over the alternative(s)? in only 60 games, that's difficult to say. but it's not difficult at all to say that franklin is one of the cardinals' 5 best available starters --- with wainwright, wells, looper, and reyes being the other 4. if the cardinals are serious about making a late run at this thing, then franklin's got to be in the rotation.