I'm not saying that either one of us (Franklin and Miller) have been on too much of a high but it brings you back down to where you're supposed to be."
The somberly realistic athlete is too much in fiction, usually, but never fails to depress in an actual locker room—it's why I've never been able to gin up very much anger about guys who are too exuberant or completely out of touch with their middling place in the baseball world. (Unless they're announcers.) It's one thing to make fun of a utility infielder who thinks the little things at which he works make him more valuable than Adam Dunn, but it's another thing entirely to watch him realize that a lifetime of breathing baseball and perfecting his sacrifice bunt has made him the 500th best player in the United States.
Ryan Franklin is a solid reliever, and he'll probably make good (though just barely) on that extra year the Cardinals tossed his way—that kind of money pays, on the open market, for a nice Dave Weathers year, and I've always thought that Ryan Franklin is a nice Dave Weathers. But if it's fair to say that he's not the guy who's walked 10 batters in his last 20 innings, it's also fair to say that the guy who's currently #5 on Baseball Prospectus's WXRL leaderboard, who's apparently added 4.7 wins over a replacement level, inexplicably highly leveraged pitcher, is not likely to make a return engagement.
So stop thinking about Ryan Franklin as a sad reliever and start thinking about him as a stern rebuker of over-excited fans. "Well," he says. "It brings you back down to where you're supposed to be."
When a guy begins the season as brilliantly as Franklin did I always expect him—that is, hope for him—to coast gently back toward his expected level of performance. An ERA of 0.79 at the all-star break? Well, gee, that's great; but that 3.45 ERA in the second half will be just fine, too. But he hasn't just turned back into Ryan Franklin in the meantime; he's turned into Kelvin Jimenez. Here are his half-seasons as a Cardinal, rendered as full years using yet another great tool from Baseball Reference:
G W L IP H ER HR BB K ERA BABIP FIP 2007 68 5 0 78.0 57 10 3 7 30 1.23 .214 3.20 2007 67 2 8 78.0 83 46 13 15 59 5.25 .294 4.43 2008 68 4 3 64.0 69 24 7 27 43 3.43 .299 4.55 2008 68 6 9 83.0 92 34 11 27 52 3.68 .310 4.66 2009 68 4 0 66.0 40 6 4 14 54 0.79 .196 2.99 2009 68 0 3 66.0 54 17 0 34 30 2.29 .246 3.84
Sorry about the preformatted table—wrangling the SBN table editor wasn't going as planned. Anyway, 2007 is the season we'll all have in mind if Franklin continues to slide, because the same combination of extraordinarily low BABIP and solid control was in play when he was at his best, and the same uneasy feeling came on so quickly when he wasn't. (Though it's interesting to see that the was "finer" in 2007 and better with the strikeout in 2009; I would have guessed the opposite.)
But this most recent hiccup isn't the same as the second half of 2007, where he basically pitched like himself save for the home run every six innings; this time he's become both hittable and nibbly, walking—and this is a damned-lie caliber stat, but I like it anyway—twice as many batters as Chris Perez has in the second half, over four per nine innings.
In April Franklin's tenacity was what I latched onto when I watched him pitch; he was relentless on both corners, like Chris Carpenter at his best, and he was doing it despite a fastball that would pass for batting practice if he were allowed to stand behind a giant screen. He was all fast-moving confidence in a way that seemed to deny he was throwing the pitches he threw—It's one thing to live on the edge like that if you've got a fastball that misses bats; he was just acting like he did. Mess up with Carpenter's fastball, throw a quality start; mess up with Franklin's fastball, it looks like this.
He's not this guy any more than he was Dennis Eckersley; luckily, the Cardinals have some breathing room in which to see how quickly this version wears himself out. This last month of the season and into the playoffs will be quite a test of Tony's bullpen button-pressing, because as of September 7 he's got exactly one reliever who's been good all year and is keeping it up right now—a LOOGY. He's probably too in tune with Franklin's touchy Closer Mentality to swap him out of the ninth inning role, but aside from Miller against the toughest left-hander he has no autopilot relievers for the highest-leverage moments. (Well, he does—Thompson and Motte have appeared in a combined three games with a leverage index over one since August 1, to McClellan's eight—but he probably shouldn't.)