Ryan Franklin is sure to hear more boos from fans. After getting ahead of the hitter (0-2) in yesterday’s game, he left a splitter over the middle of the plate that Miguel Cairo laced to left field to give the Reds a 2-run lead in the 8th inning. Of course, those weren’t his runners on base. And he did get the next four outs without allowing any more runs, even after accounting for an error by Theriot at SS.
In Derrick Goold’s P-D article about Ryan Franklin being officially demoted from the closer’s role, this quote caught my attention:
“I know that I’m going to go out there to the bullpen and whenever the phone rings and they say, ‘Franklin get up,’ I’ll get up,” the veteran said. “That’s what I know. … Stuff is fine. Everything in my arsenal is still there. I haven’t lost anything. However they want to put me out there, it doesn’t matter. I’m theirs. However they want to treat it I’m on board.”
Of course, with pitch f/x (available in a variety of places now including Brooks Baseball, Joe Lefkowitz’s site, and Texas Leaguers – the numbers in this post, however, can be found at FanGraphs), we can evaluate such claims to see if there’s been any change in a pitcher’s selection, velocity, or movement.
*Please note that none of the numbers in the tables and graphs below include numbers from yesterday’s game against the Reds (4/23).*
|Franklin’s Pitch Selection|
Franklin offers a good example of why pitch f/x analysis can be tricky. The system appears to have a difficult time differentiating between his pitches, especially fastballs, which have four different classifications: generic, cutter, sinker, 2-seamer. My guess is that the generic all-encompassing pitch is the one where the pitch f/x system dumps in fastballs that it doesn’t know how to categorize. As you can see below in the next table, it isn’t noticeably faster than Franklin’s 2-seamer, so I don’t think we can assume it’s a 4-seamer. Whatever it is, he’s definitely thrown fewer of them, but given the spike in sinker/2-seamer usage (which, for all practical purposes, are the same pitch), it could be that some of the generic fastballs are now being categorized as sinkers/2-seamers. I guess the bottom line is that we can’t make any confident assertions given the volatile nature of his pitch type classification.
It is clear, however, that Franklin has been relying on his off-speed pitches less than usual this season. Over the course of his career, Franklin has chosen breaking pitches (knuckle-curve, slider, or changeup) 36.9% of the time, but in 2011, he’s only done so 18.6% of the time. Of course, this begs the question, “Why?”
I can think of two answers: (1) As usual in April analysis, one reason could be small sample size. The guy has only thrown 113 pitches this season; that’s 11.5% of the amount of pitches he threw in 2010. Slice anyone’s season up into tenths and I’m betting that you will find some statistical quirks. But do that with a reliever, whose entire season of performance is in itself a small sample size, and you’re going to find some silly numbers. (2) Or perhaps he’s struggling with command of his pitches – he does have a higher walk ratio than normal (4.05 BB/9) – and has been forced to work from behind in the count. More on this later.
Franklin is 37-years-old. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this was simply the decline phase of his career. And for players of his age, drop-off in performances can happen precipitously. But check out his velocity below:
Nothing too crazy there. Maybe there’s something evident in the movement of his pitches:
|Franklin’s Movement (Horizontal/Vertical)|
The generic fastball seems to be within normal range; same for the cutter and 2-seamer. The sinker has lost a couple of inches in horizontal movement. But we’re not even sure if that pitch is worthy of its own distinction since sinkers are a type of 2-seamer. The knuckle-curve does appear to be noticeably flatter than previous seasons, but he’s only thrown 11 or 12 of them in 2011, so it’s way too early to attribute any significance to that observation. And, with that, he’s thrown even fewer changeups, so we really can’t make anything of the 1.8 inch difference in vertical movement on that pitch.
Onto the plate discipline numbers. How are pitchers behaving against Franklin in 2011? What have they looked like against him throughout his career? And what do batters look like, on average, against any pitcher?
Franklin’s career follows that of the average 2011 pitcher pretty closely when it comes to the plate discipline of batters faced, but there are a couple of exceptions. Over his career, Franklin has thrown more pitches in the strike zone and, particularly, more first pitch strikes than the average pitcher. However, he’s thrown fewer first pitch strikes thus far in 2011. Franklin has thrown first pitch strikes 64.7% of the time over his career (that number is probably higher in his time as a Cardinal) , but only 53.1% of the time in 2011. For someone accustomed to working ahead in the count, it’s easy to imagine how he’d be tempted to serve up some fat pitches trying to reclaim the count.
But that’s not the only interesting aspect of this graph. Batters are swinging at more pitches outside of the zone and fewer pitches inside the zone, but maintaining absurd levels of contact, especially on pitches outside of the strike zone. In general, a pitcher’s ability to induce swings at balls outside of the strike zone is a positive development since those are the type of pitches you’d expect to generate weak contact. And you know what’s crazy? Franklin’s batted balls in play are surprisingly normal, if not improved from career trends. His 12.5% LD rate is down seven percent, 46.9% GB rate is up seven percent, and 40.6% FB rate is down four-tenths of a percent. Nevertheless, Franklin will enter his next game with an ugly 10.30 FIP.
How is this possible given all that’s been detailed in this post? His velocity is in tact. There appears to be similar movement on his pitches. He’s getting hitters to swing at a higher percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone and fewer pitches inside of it. He’s allowing fewer line drives and generating more ground balls. What gives?
Check out his xFIP (5.69) for a clue. Normalize Franklin’s HR/FB rate, which currently sits at an unbelievable 30.8%, and his numbers come back down to earth a little bit. No, that’s still not what you want from a guy who’s supposed to be handling the higher leverage innings out of the bullpen, but I’m betting you can find other stretches over his career when he’s seemed just as helpless on the mound. April is a time for minuscule performances to be placed under a microscope and greatly exaggerated, whether it be Ryan Theriot’s early success batting leadoff or Ryan Franklin’s failure to secure the last out of games. Time will tell which trends are sustainable. Franklin said himself, “I haven’t lost anything.” As much as I wanted to roll my eyes at his insistence, maybe he was right. I certainly couldn’t find anything in the numbers to suggest otherwise.