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Do not speak of this!!!

One of the great mysteries of the universe – like Stonehenge, the aurora borealis, or how Ozzie Guillen manages to keep his job – has been the performance of Ryan Franklin so far this year. He’s pitched so well that none of us have dared speak of it, lest we jinx the good fortune we’re receiving. Probably by mentioning it today I’ve guaranteed that he’ll blow his next 3 save opportunities. Nevertheless, Franklin’s been fantastic so far this season and is a big reason why the Cards sit perched atop the NL Central right now.

Franklin presently has an ERA of 1.00 and has allowed 26 base runners in 27 innings. Two years ago Franklin pitched fairly well but he’s never been anywhere near this good. In 2007, he had an ERA just over 3 and averaged about a base runner an inning but he also benefited from considerable luck, as his BABIP was just .255. Most of us knew at the time that his performance would regress to his career mean and that we couldn’t expect that kind of performance to continue.

Last year Franklin’s performance was much more in line w/ his career numbers. His ERA rose by half a run and his BB/9 went up by more than 2 per 9 innings. His BABIP rose to .308 – much closer to league average (though this time a little high) – and his HR/9 went up by about a quarter of a homer every 9 innings. Let’s face it – the Cards were able to sign Franklin for just $1 M prior to the ’07 season b/c he hadn’t been a very good pitcher for most of his career. Expecting him to become one of the premier relievers in the NL seemed too much to expect.

This year, however, he’s been spectacular. His K/9 is up to 6.67 – the 2nd highest of his career. One of the reasons teams (and fans) have never been that excited about Franklin is b/c he really couldn’t strike people out. His career average is just 4.9 K/9. He’s also walking very few batters – 1.67 BB/9. He’s averaging 4 K for every walk he issues – a tremendous ratio. His HR/9 is an absurdly low 0.67 – less than half his career average. Busch is a fairly pitcher-friendly park but he’s been pitching in Busch for 3 years now and his previous HR/9 were 0.90 and 1.14. Batters are batting a ridiculous .200 against him. Of course, that’s partly due to his BABIP -- .232. We should expect that to rise as the year goes along.

The biggest key to Franklin’s success this season has been his ability to throw strikes. 67.8% of the pitches he’s thrown so far this season have been for strikes. He’s always been a pretty good strike thrower but, entering this season, his career strike % was 64.4%. When you’re throwing more than 2 out of every 3 pitches for strikes, you’re going to have success. Interestingly, the rest of his peripherals aren’t all that different from previous years. His ground ball % hasn’t gone up, nor his line drive % down. He’s still getting ground balls 42.5% of the time – it was 42.7% last season – and 18.8% of the balls put into play have been line drives (19.4% last year). That, by the way, is the biggest reason why his BABIP should rise. It should be near .300 w/ a 19% LD%. His HR/FB is a little low but not tremendously so – 6.5%. He has stranded 99.1% of the runners he’s inherited. There’s no way that can continue w/o a strikeout rate probably near 15%.

Franklin has made one noticeable change to his repertoire this season. In the past, more than 20% of the pitches he threw were sliders but that % is down to 2.5% this season.. He’s throwing many more cutters – up from 4.1% in ’07 and 3.2% in ’08 to 26.2% this year. He’s throwing fewer 4-seam fastballs than ever before – 44.4% -- and using the cutter much more often. He’s also throwing more curves than he ever has before. His previous career high was 13.5% in 2007 but this year a full 19% of the pitches he’s thrown have been curve balls.

Most of his success this year has come on the 4-seamer and the curve ball. He’s 7.1 wRAA on those 2 pitches. His FIP is 3.21 – very good, of course, but not nearly as good as his ERA is. So while he’s pitched well, it’s unreasonable for us to believe that he’s going to have the kind of success over the next 90 or so games that he’s had over the first 69. His BABIP should rise which means he’ll give up more base runners and more runs. It wouldn’t surprise me if his HR/9 rose to be closer to league average. Still, if he continues to throw 67.8% of his pitches for strikes, he’s going to be tough on Cards’ opponents.

Lastly, there should be some discussion about Franklin deserving to be on the All-Star team. Obviously, he’s been tremendous but there are a number of NL closers who’ve been close to as good as Franklin’s been. Franklin has 17 saves – tied for 4th in the NL – and 9 NL closers have 15 or more saves. Franklin has blown just 1 save but 8 NL closers have blown 2 or fewer saves. 5 NL closers, including Franklin, have ERAs below 2.00 and Francisco Cordero’s is 2.10. The point is that some of these guys won’t make the All-Star team so it’s not cut and dried that Franklin belongs, despite his great first half. You’d have to think that Heath Bell and Jonathan Broxton definitely belong and there’s a good case to be made for Cordero, K-Rod, Brian Wilson, Trevor Hoffman, and Huston Street. Additionally, 1 or 2 of these guys may have to be on the team as their team’s lone representative so that may affect Franklin’s status as an All-Star. I don’t care about that nearly as much as I do his continued success and I hope I haven’t jinxed him too badly by talking about it this morning.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and Dad, if you’re reading today, Happy Father’s Day to you.