Tony La Russa has gotten away with using Ryan Franklin as the Cardinals' closer for two years, and today should be the day he makes a change that is two years overdue. Franklin is nothing more than a replacement level pitcher who has benefited from high strand rate (85.7 percent in 2009), low BABIP (.249 in 2009 and .267 in 2010), and home run-to-fly ball ratios (3.2 percent in 2009 and 8.2 percent in 2010) during his reign as closer.
Franklin has gotten off to an ugly start this season. He has allowed six hits on eight hits, two walks, three home runs and striking out two in 4.2 innings. Franklin's disastrous start to the 2011 season has nothing to do with diminished stuff, or an undisclosed injury. It comes down to the amount of contact Franklin has pitched to. Franklin's BABIP this season is at .294, which is four points above the 2010 average.
His 2011 velocity remains at its 2009-10 levels (91.1 mph), but he is only generating the lowest amount of swinging strikes for any closer in baseball at 3.5 percent. In fact, he has the lowest percentage among all closer's with 110 innings pitched since 2009 at 7.3 percent. Amazingly opponents have been able to make contact on 93 percent of Franklin's pitches, and 93 percent of the pitches he throws out of the strike zone.
It is a general rule of thumb that a closer should strikeout opponents at an above average rate, and induce a high amount of swinging strikes. Closers should be able to get out the most difficult situations without allowing a run, and they need to be able to have the ability to strikeout any hitter in these situations. Franklin's highest profiles blown save, 2009 NLDS Game 2, serves as an example.
Franklin won't pitch this badly for the rest of the season. His 37.5 percent home run to flyball ratio is unsustainable, but as noted earlier, his BABIP does not inflate his current .364 batting averaged against.
There may not be a great reliever in the Cardinals bullpen, but Boggs, then Motte, deserves a chance to close games. The Cardinals can't afford to go down this bumpy road any longer.