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Franklin's making me want to have some franklins!

How fortunate are we to have been able to avoid this conversation until September 13? Our closer situation, one that was uncertain in the spring and a source of consternation on the first game of the season, has been a non-issue all season long…until now. Ryan Franklin’s made people not need to toss back a few franklins in order to survive the angst of the last couple innings but now the postseason’s approaching. It’s the wrong time for him to have some iffy outings.

I think we all know that Franklin’s been overreaching all year long. A 1-something ERA just isn’t sustainable for someone of Franklin’s skill set. Nevertheless, his ability to throw strikes, and throw them to his spots, has been a primary factor in his success this season. As you’ll see below, however, his control has gotten shakier as the season’s gone along.

ERA K/9 BB/9 GB% Strike%
April 0.00 7.84 1.74 46.2 70.8
May 2.79 5.59 2.79 48.4 64.7
June 0.00 5.00 0.00 37.9 69.1
July 2.31 7.71 2.31 46.9 73.7
August 0.00 3.27 4.91 42.9 62.7
September 16.20 10.80 13.50 46.2 55.8

So there’s a big difference in August and September from the previous 4 months. Despite giving up no earned runs in August, he walked 6 batters in 11 innings and struck out just 4. In just 3.1 innings in September, he’s already walked 5 batters. His ability to get ground balls hasn’t really changed all season long, so that’s not the issue. It’s all about his control. It stands to reason that if he’s walking more hitters over the last 2 months, he’s also missing more spots within the zone. He’s, therefore, getting hit harder. His slugging % against this month is .611 – higher than his OPS against in every other month except May.

It almost seems that Franklin might be tiring but he’s a former starter. So far this season, he’s tossed just 55 innings but he threw 80 innings in 2007 and 78.2 last year. Last year June and July were his worst 2 months – between innings 25.1 and 52. He was very good in August and September, from innings 52 – 78.2. In ’07, he was fantastic (though, like this year, very lucky) the first 4 months of the season before struggling in August and struggling mightily in September. Sound familiar? He was great the first 54.1 innings, not great the next 13.1, and horrible the last 12.1. Unlike this year, however, his problem in ’07 wasn’t walks. It was home runs allowed. He was hit hard but not b/c he had a hard time finding the strike zone (apparently).

In looking at his velocities on fangraphs, and then his pitch f/x numbers from brooksbaseball, there’s nothing in his fastball velocity to indicate he’s tiring. He’s been consistently above 91 mph since June and averaged 91.07 yesterday. There’s nothing really that stands out except that he’s throwing more splitters now than he did at any point in the season. Early in the season, he was basically a fastball, cutter, curve ball guy but nearly a quarter of the pitches he’s thrown in September have been splitters/changeups. Yesterday 7 of his 25 pitches were classified as changeups (splitters). That’s 28%. The other thing that stands out is that his splitter has been clocked around 84-85 mph all season long but yesterday it was clocked at an average of 86.23 mph. Maybe it’s an insignificant difference but maybe dialing it up an extra mph reduces its movement a little.

Why is he throwing more splitters? I don’t know. Maybe it’s b/c he’s getting behind w/ his other pitches and so he’s throwing it in lieu of a fastball in fastball counts. Maybe he’s feeling less confident in his other pitches right now. Maybe he got pounded yesterday b/c he hadn’t pitched in several days. Clearly, I don’t have the answer. Dave Duncan doesn’t either:

"I don’t know if they hit good pitches, or if he had too many balls in the middle, or what. Nobody’s perfect," pitching coach Dave Duncan said.
The ball McCann smoked to center was a 2-strike pitch right down the middle, about belt-high. Not a good pitch at all.

I’m not sure what the answer is but clearly this is something that has to get fixed in the next couple of weeks. If we can’t close out games in October, we’ll be in big trouble. I was expecting to see some 4+ out saves in the postseason as it was. The good news is that in ’06 we were less settled in the 9th than we are now and we ended up ok so at least there’s time to work things out. The problem is that even when Franklin’s throwing strikes consistently he doesn’t miss many bats. Our right-handed relief is my main source of concern going into the postseason and Franklin’s doing nothing to alleviate that right now.