and the Cardinals are very close to an extension of his contract
, one which would make his 2010 option year official and add on an additional season. Actually, it seems the two sides have been close on this for the better part of a week now
, making me more than a little curious as to why it hasn't gotten done yet. I assume the only thing holding the deal up is the standard contract minutiae which always takes forever to reconcile, but I do find it a bit odd news of the deal started making the rounds so far ahead of the actual signing itself.
Hopefully, Franklin will use some of that new loot to get rid of that beard forever and start working on a nice reliever mustache.
The contract is for roughly $6.5 million over the next two seasons; Franklin will make $2.75 in 2010 and approximately $3.75 in 2011. From a monetary standpoint, that really isn't too very bad.
Actually, let me take that back. The money isn't bad at all if you're talking about a top flight closer. In fact, in that case, the price is dirt cheap. On the other hand, if you're talking about a top flight setup man, then it's just a pretty good deal. And if you're talking about a really good middle reliever, then it's just a flat-out bad deal.
So the question, of course, becomes which one of those guys is Ryan Franklin?
First off, let me say this: in 2009, Franklin has been an absolute monster. His ERA+ for the season is 402, for god's sake. Mariano Rivera
, quite possibly the greatest closer who has ever played the game, has never posted an ERA+ better than 317. Trevor Hoffman
has never done better than a 263. So yeah, Ryan Franklin has been rather okay this season.
The problem, of course, comes when we start digging a little deeper than that
. Franklin's Fielding Independent Percentage alone is enough to raise a red flag; his FIP stands at 3.11. Now, that's still very good, but the gulf between his ERA (1.05), and FIP isn't anything to sneeze at, either. FIP is proven to be a very good predictor of future performance; unfortunately for Franklin and the Cardinals, it's a predictor he isn't nearly as good as he's looked this year.
Even worse, when we look at some of his other peripherals, the picture looks even grimmer. Franklin is stranding over 90% of runners on base this season; his career average is just under 78%. His batting average on balls in play is .220; he's giving up a fairly average percentage of line drives at 18.3%, so one would expect his BABIP to move back toward an average number. Franklin's career BABIP is .277, and that isn't something pitchers can really control. And finally, only 3.5% of the fly balls Franklin has allowed this season have left the park. Again, that simply isn't a sustainable rate; about 10-11% of all fly balls a pitcher allows will turn into home runs. Ballparks themselves certainly play a part in that final number, but not to the point one can expect any pitcher to continue giving up barely a third as many homers as pretty much every other pitcher in baseball. Take all that into account, and you have a pitcher who is giving up fewer hits, fewer home runs, and allowing fewer runners to score than he should be, and none of those things are likely to continue.
So here's the rub: Ryan Franklin is a very nice relief pitcher. He's too good for middle relief, and plenty good to be an above-average setup man. Problem is, Ryan Franklin is also having a season of ridiculously good luck, which has made him look like a great closer. And unfortunately, at some point that luck is going to even out. When that happens, he's going to go back to looking like the 2007-2008 version of Ryan Franklin. Again, that's a very good reliever to have around; Franklin posted ERAs of 3.04 and 3.55 in those seasons, respectively. But if the Cardinals are counting on him being the utterly dominating force he's been in the ninth inning this season going forward, they're in for a rude awakening.
Bottom line on the Franklin deal: I like it. Franklin has proven for three seasons now he can get the job done in the bullpen. The cost is reasonable; the years are fine. In locking Ryan up for the next two years, the Cards have added some admirable stability to the relief corps. Good job by Mozeliak and company to help shore up what is likely to be a very young and very fluid part of the team for the next few years.
On the other hand, I think we need to be realistic about what we have here: a pitcher in his late 30s who currently looks a whole lot better than he actually is. You hope age doesn't catch up with him, but it could. You hope he can continue outperforming his components, but he almost assuredly won't.
Ryan Franklin is a good pitcher, but not a great one. And the same goes for this contract.