After Friday night's excruciating blown save and subsequent loss, I planned to pen a brief debate on whether or not Ryan Franklin should keep the Cardinals' closer role.
Now, after blowing his second save in as many days, the question is whether or not Tony LaRussa will actually keep going to Franklin in save situations, where he's converted just one of his four chances.
While not all of the blame falls on Franklin, he still lacks two of the most important attributes of a major league closer: an out pitch and the ability to keep runners off base.
Let's break down his four appearances this season:
March 31: 1 IP, 1 HR, 14 pitches
After Chris Carpenter and the bullpen held the Padres to just two runs over the first eight innings, Franklin came on and promptly got the first two outs in the inning. He then mailed in what might have been the most hittable pitch of the game to Cameron Maybin, who responded with a game-tying blast to the batter's eye in center.
In 575 career at-bats, this was Maybin's 14th long ball. He's not a power hitter, but if you give him a pitch like the one Franklin did, he can go yard.
Visibly shaken, Franklin proceeded to plunk Nick Hundley before Jon Jay corralled Chris Denorfia's sinking liner to save the game for now. However, the Cardinals couldn't recover, and lost the game in 11 innings.
April 5: 1 IP, 2 K, SV
After getting the first two outs, Franklin surrendered a single to Ryan Doumit, perhaps the only real major league force he faced in the inning, before striking out Steven Pearce to end the game.
April 8: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER
After Ryan Theriot capped a two-out rally in the top of the ninth for St. Louis, Franklin came on and, once again, got the first two outs of the inning. Somehow, Franklin's pitching leads me to believe that he thinks there are two outs in the inning. Because afterward, he starts pitching batting practice.
It started off with Aaron Rowand's ground ball through the middle for a single. Rowand then advanced to second when Franklin uncorked his first wild pitch of the season. That meant Franklin could pitch around Posey, which he did.
What happened next might sum up the Cardinals' season so far. Catcher Yadier Molina called for a pickoff, and as Albert Pujols moved toward first base, it was apparent that either Franklin missed the sign, or was unable to throw a ball for once, because he threw his cutter low and over the plate.
Pablo Sandoval hit it to (where else?) first base, to the exact place Pujols had vacated expecting the throw from Molina. The game was tied, and the Cardinals once again couldn't recover. Aaron Rowand had the walk-off hit in the 12th.
April 9: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 2ER, 20 pitches
This game might not be entirely Franklin's fault, but he still deserves a great heap of the blame.
After coming in with a 2-1 lead thanks to a stellar performance by Jaime Garcia, he got the first out of the inning relatively easily, and then walked Pat Burrell on five pitches. None of the balls were close to the strike zone.
After giving up a single to Buster Posey, he got the second out when Aaron Rowand flew out to right.
Apparently, Franklin actually does know that there are three outs in an inning, because he stayed on the mound to face Miguel Tejada will runners on first and second and two out.
In a nine-pitch at-bat, Tejada drew a 3-2 count before Franklin tossed the ninth pitch right into the aging shortstop's wheelhouse. Tejada drove the pitch to the warning track, where Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay failed to call each other off, and the ball hit off of Rasmus's glove. Both runners scored, and the Giants won the game.
Now, you'll notice a recurring theme here. In each of his three blown saves, he's come one pitch from getting the save—and was unable to get by a major league hitter. In series against the Padres, Pirates, and Giants, all of whom have closers who throw in the upper 90s, this difference has been axiomatic.
Even if he did have that out pitch in the past, he's completely lost it in 2011. According to PitchFx, his velocity is down across the board, but his release point hasn't changed. These aren't mechanics issues. Unless he can miraculously add 10 miles per hour to his fastball, Ryan Franklin shouldn't be the Cardinals' closer.
Which makes you wonder why he's the closer at all. I know he had a great 2009 season, but so did Jose Lopez.
I'm guessing that Tony LaRussa still misses the days when he could call on Dennis Eckersley to pitch the ninth. With no similar player on the team, he's turned to what he believes to be his best option, even though he might be better suited with nobody occupying the "closer" role. Franklin isn't a bad pitcher, but he is a bad closer.
Right now, there are four options for LaRussa and the Cardinals.
The first is letting Franklin keep the closer role and to cross his fingers every time he makes that call to the 'pen.
The next is to go with a closer-by-committee, which was successful for the Twins in 2010 after Joe Nathan missed the year due to surgery. Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte have the stuff and composure to save games, and just about every pitcher the Cardinals have could concievably pick up a save if needed.
The third is to actually turn over the job to Boggs or Motte, but I don't recommend that. They're two relatively young pitchers, and they have little to no experience in the role. They need to be gradually moved into it.
But here's my favorite option. It's a little bit of each with something new mixed in.
Trade for Heath Bell.
It's no secret that Bell, the two-time defending Rolaids Relief Man of the Year, will be on the trading block come July 31. And I think the Cardinals should take interest.
I don't feel the need to run down the whole list of accomplishments Bell's accrued since taking over the Padres closer role, but I'll give you his stats for the last two years: 89 saves, 2.32 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, and nearly eleven strikeouts per nine innings.
And unlike Franklin, he has a blazing mid-90s fastball to blow past hitters, and he has that out pitch, his changeup, that helped him hold hitters to a .221 average last year.
If Franklin can't get the job done, Bell might be the best answer.