If you had asked me at the beginning of the season to handicap who would lead the National League in saves, it would have gone something like this - Jonathan Broxton, Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Valverde, and maybe Brian Wilson.
Picking any of those guys wouldn’t have been a bad choice because they are some of the best closers in the game. But baseball is a funny game and sometimes the guys you least expect to do well, come through with the biggest year.
Has anyone looked at who is leading the National League in saves this season? To give you a hint, he isn’t one of the names I mentioned above. Give up? Okay, I will tell you.
Heath Bell, Ryan Franklin, and Huston Street are tied for the National League lead in saves with 30. Say what?
I am not surprised by Street because I predicted a nice bounce back year for him at the beginning of the season and because he has been a successful closer before with the Oakland A's. But closers in baseball are like kickers in the NFL. You got your four-to-five great ones year after year and then the rest are a crap shoot.
Bell and Franklin are the pure definition of that.
Heath Bell was traded by the New York Mets to the San Diego Padres for the legendary Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson in 2006 (another one of Omar Minaya’s brilliant moves), and since then has blossomed with the Padres. In 2007 and 2008, Bell had ERA’s of 2.02 and 3.58.
However, Bell entered 2009 with only two lifetime saves. Bell won the closers role by default after the Padres let go Trevor Hoffman and the rest for Bell has been history.
Bell has been lights out all season, posting a 2.22 ERA and an impressive 10 K/9 ratio. The icing on the cake for Bell was when he was named to his first All-Star team this season.
Franklin was awful as a starter in Seattle, hitting rock bottom in 2004 and 2005 when he went a combined 12-31 with 4.99 ERA. Franklin moved to the bullpen full-time after signing with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 and pitched in the same role after being traded to the Cincinnati Reds the same year.
It wasn’t until Franklin signed with St. Louis that he came into his own. In 2007 and 2008, Franklin had 3.29 ERA for the Red Birds and even chipped in 17 saves in 2008.
Coming into this year, Franklin wasn’t even the closer. That job went to rookie Jason Motte. Motte scuffled in his first couple of outings and Franklin has pitched better than Bruce Sutter ever did in a Cardinals’ uniform (Sutter had a 1.54 ERA in 1984).
Like Bell, Franklin made his first All-Star team this year and has posted a ridiculous 1.16 ERA. I mean really? A 1.16 ERA for Ryan Franklin?
I don’t think there is a person on the planet who could have predicted this type of success for Franklin.
Street, Bell, and Franklin prove that you never know who is going to excel in a closer’s role at the beginning of the year.