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Trevor Rosenthal, Ryan Franklin and the Closer Role

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The anointed "Closer" is a key part of your bullpen... until they aren't anymore.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dan McLaughlin has a habit of returning day-after-day to the same anecdotes, or the same little bit of analysis. "Mitch Harris was in the Navy," "Mike Matheny speaks Spanish," and so-on.

Way back in 2011, McLaughlin went on one of his most epic runs with the idea that "the Cardinals need to get Ryan Franklin right." As you may recall, the Cardinals picked Franklin up off the scrap heap in 2007 and got a few years of useful bullpen production out of him. In fact, for most of 2009 and 2010, Franklin was anointed as the team's "closer."

Franklin's success came with a bit of good luck, some low BABIP and FIP-beating ERAs. That luck evaporated in 2011. By April 17, he had blown all but one of his Save chances and his ERA was close to 12. He was removed from the closer role.

Over the next two-and-a-half months, Franklin would limp through 15 more appearances, in increasingly lower-leverage situations. Fernando Salas took over closing duties, and over time the bullpen would shift to rely more on Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte, and by the end of the season, even Lance Lynn.

Throughout it all, any time there was dead air to fill, Danny Mac would mention how the real key for the Cardinals was going to be getting Ryan Franklin right again. He kept up that refrain until June 29, when Franklin was released and out of baseball permanently.

And how did things work out for those 2011 Cardinals? Pretty well, actually.

I bring this up because over the past few days, McLaughlin and Tim McCarver have repeated the same arguments in regards to Trevor Rosenthal. In Game One of the Cubs series, McLaughlin actually said the Cardinals needed Rosenthal if they were going to go anywhere. McCarver made the case for some kind of inherent Closer quality in Rosenthal by saying "this is a guy who saved 48 games last year."

That same day, Paul Swydan at Fangraphs published an article about how historically bad Rosenthal has been this season. Rosenthal's walk rate is not just the highest in the majors - it is the 25th highest ever since 1947. His home run rate has skyrocketed. He is no longer getting batters to swing at pitches outside the zone... Read the article. It's a horror show.

Even if we're staying in Traditional Stat Land, Rosie came into this Cubs series rocking a 4.91 ERA, which is terrible for a reliever - let alone a "closer." That ERA has actually come down these last two games, and Rosie even earned two Saves, but only at the mercy of the Left On Base Gods. He's allowed five men to reach base over his two innings of work.

As a writer for a stats-minded blog, I hate to refer to "the eye test," but if you've watched Rosenthal pitch in this Cubs series and thought he looked good, you are not a person who is good at watching baseball.

So the numbers, the eye test - they all point to some real struggles for Rosenthal right now. And yet Mike Matheny, the man paid by the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals to set lineups and manage the bullpens, seems to be subscribing to the same logic as Dan McLaughlin, the man paid by the rights-holder to talk while the games are happening.

We all know Matheny loves his guys to have "roles," and certain players earn the distinction of becoming Mike's Guys™, which seemingly insulates them even further from repercussions in the event of poor play. At least one evaluator found Matheny to be the worst bullpen manager in the league (by a wide margin), so the Rosenthal Situation is really a perfect storm.

What flummoxes me is what a minor course-correction we are talking about here. I don't think the Cardinals need to demote Rosenthal to the minors, or certainly not even release him à la Ryan Franklin. All we are talking about is moving him out of the 9th inning, and high-leverage situations in general. Seung Hwan Oh and Kevin Siegrist have both pitched consistently better than Rosenthal - Oh in particular.

And if Rosenthal regains his form, or if Oh and Siegrist struggle, you can always shuffle the deck again. The point is, results should determine the role. A role is not some innate quality that a player maintains for all-time, whether that role is closer, ace starter, #3 hitter, or whatever.

Players may define themselves by these roles. Fans and less-insightful broadcasters may define them by these roles, too. But the people who pull the strings in the organization need to understand that it is all shifting and ephemeral. Ryan Franklin was the Cardinals closer, then he wasn't anymore. They still won the World Series. It's time to make a change.