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Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals Reliever (2007-2011)

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Unlike old soldiers, old relievers generally don't fade away. Old relievers get blown up and then released or relegated to mop-up duty. It is generally a sad thing to see. What last season was for Trevor Hoffman, this season was for Ryan Franklin. Franklin was never a Hall-of-Fame closer but his fall of the Mount Proven Closer was just as sudden and brutal. A pitcher who joined the Cardinals in the World Series hangover season of 2007 and quickly spurred VEB to change the name of beers to "Franklins" because of the way he was successful--never striking anybody out and somehow managing a low BABIP--it's a wonder his fall didn't happen sooner.

Franklin was solid in relief for the Cardinals in 2007, posting a 3.04 ERA, 3.96 FIP, and 4.01 xFIP in 2007 despite a strikeout rate below 5.0 because he didn't walk many opposing batsmen and had a .247 BABIP. Likely due to his low ERA, Franklin re-signed with St. Louis and was BABIP'd (.302) the following season to the tune of a 3.55 ERA, 4.75 FIP, and 4.70 xFIP even though he struckout nearly a full batter more per nine innings. In the great bullpen implosion of '08, Franklin was one of the few solid performers.

On Opening Day 2009, first-time big-league closer Jason Motte was apple-jacked and Franklin quickly assumed the closer duties. His performance was excellent if unsustainable:  1.92 ERA, 3.31 FIP, and 4.22 xFIP. His walk rate was ridiculously low at 0.30 (that is not a type-o) 3.43 (it was a type-o)*. Named an All-Star, Franklin ended the season with 38 saves and made the bullpen woes of the season prior seem a distant memory. At least until Game 2 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, when Matt Holliday botched a routine pop out and the Dodgers rallied off Franklin to win the game en route to a series sweep. It exposed Franklin for what he was, a stabilizing workhorse dependent on location, his defense, luck, and guille. In the face of baserunners, Franklin was incapable of mixing a plus fastball with ungodly breaking stuff as he struck out the side to extinguish the fire.

*While putting this together I misread HR/9 for BB/9. A tip of the hat to to stlcardsfan4 for catching my mistake in this paragraph and the one below.

His 2010 looked a lot like his 2008 at the end of the season. Franklin posted a 3.46 ERA, 3.83 FIP, and 3.93 xFIP. He continued to have a miniscule posted a low walk rate, at 0.90 1.38, and again struck out not enough batters (5.82 K/9), and walked the line with a .249 BABIP. Franklin converted 27 save opportunities as the club underperformed and missed the playoffs. There was no reason to believe he would not be the club's closer for the duration of 2011, even if the Cardinals experimented with an apprentice closer in preparation for his retirement.

Franklin opened 2011 the way Motte opened 2009, by blowing the save on Opening Day as the Cardinals lost the game before the home faithful. He never seemed to recover. A successful west-coast road trip could have been even more successful without his glaring failures. The smoke-and-mirrors techniques of years past began to fail him, as did his defense. Rasmus, Pujols, and others gave away outs before Franklin gave away games and a crisis in confidence bloomed into a relegation to the bullpen's last arm. 

John Mozeliak went on the record stating that they hoped to use Franklin in end-of-game situations again this season. His manager, ever loyal to his guys, stuck up for him and lashed out at Cardinals fans for the boo birds sang at the failing closer. La Russa even stated he didn't want to use Franklin because of fan reaction...after a game in Washington D.C.

Mop-up reliever was the role Franklin filled last night when he entered the game at Camden Yards with a comfortable 6-0 lead. After yet another home run allowed--the ninth of 2011 compared to the nine allowed in '08 and '09 combined--La Russa fetched him from the mound and sent him to the showers. It would be the last time Franklin would pitch wearing the fabled Birds on the Bat.

Franklin was designated for assignment today after accruing the following line for the season:

27.2 IP, 1 SV, 4 BS, 5.53 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, 2.93 HR/9, .354 BABIP, 37.9 GB%, 8.46 ERA, 6.82 FIP, 4.17 xFIP

Like Jason Isringhausen before him, Franklin lost his mojo and the results followed. The end of Franklin's Cardinals tenure has marred the solid production he gave the club from 2007 through 2010. A reluctant closer, he got the job done with pinpoint control. When that ability to locate pitches abandoned him, the Cardinals did the same after exercising much more patience than many fans would have preferred.