Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Ryan Franklin's Greatness is Misunderstood 

The blogosphere seems pretty focused on my favorite Okie these days, so I thought I'd chime in. USS Mariner and Fire Bavasi have digressed from the standard Ryan Franklin bashing to weigh in with notes about Franklin's home run rate with runners on base. This conversation started by USSM bashing this article, as they once again stated that his low K-rate, high HR-rate, means that Franklin was lucky last year and heavily reliant on strong outfield defense. Therefore, keeping Ryan Franklin was a huge mistake, a mistake exacerbated by letting Mike Cameron go.

One other blog rises to Franklin's defense as Hope Springs Eternal. Nate sums up the statarazzi argument very well...

For those of you uninitiated, here's the basic premise for claiming Franklin will be worse this year: his strikeout rate has declined the last couple years AND he has given up a lot of home runs. Fewer strikeouts mean more balls in play, and most consistently good pitchers don't let a lot of balls in play. That is, there's no significant correlation between being a good pitcher and having a lot of the batted balls you allow be turned into outs. The argument goes that Franklin did as well as he did because of superior defense--in the outfield, particularly--and because of luck, and that both are more likely to decline this year. Conversely, home runs are one way that the pitcher alone is responsible for giving up runs. Giving up HRs prevents your defense from helping you out.
Okay, we get it. We have some correlated statistics that say that low-K rate, high-HR pitchers are not going to put up sub-4.00 ERAs. Yet, they also acknowledge that exceptions exist, particularly extreme flyball pitchers, knuckleballers, lefties to a certain extent. Jamie Moyer.

But USSM is quick to dismiss any comparison, noting that Moyer has had three years of consistent BABIP around .280, while Franklin's three year progression of 319, 297, 291 means that in 2004 he will bounce back toward the 320 range. Why? Could Franklin be possibly getting better as a pitcher? Whoever heard of such a thing?

Ryan Franklin throws five different pitches (fastball, forkball, slider, change, big curve) and varies the speed of his pitches between 70 and 92 MPH. With excellent control, there is no way to attack that, because you can't set up for any one pitch. He is much like Jamie Moyer in that respect.

But, what about his K-rate going down?

The one "weakness" he has is that he likes to throw a first pitch strike, and hitters seem to have figured that out a bit. Of the 794 batters Franklin faced last year, he pitched first pitch strikes to 525 of them. 119 times, batters went after the first pitch and fared very well, with 37 hits and 13 home runs for a 311 batting average and 681 slugging percentage. But with an 0-1 count, Franklin is untouchable - 219 average and 318 SLG. Those numbers match the elite in baseball (Pedro, Mussina, Moyer) with a one strike count.

By comparison, two names that USS Mariner brought up as Franklin comparables due to K rate and HR rate were Mike Maroth and Damian Moss. Maroth with a one-strike count? 293 AVG and 510 SLG. Damian Moss? 307 and 451. These pitchers get no quantifiable advantage from being ahead in the count, while Franklin does. (And yes, this is consistent over his three years as a major leaguer).

There is still very little that we understand about pitchers ability to control the effects of balls put in play. Stats have revolutionized thinking in this area to make us believe that pitchers have less control over this than was previously believed true. However, this is so new, and there are so many exceptions, that I fear that some take this new belief as gospel. I think that a pitcher like Franklin who varies his pitches so well, attacks hitters with first pitch strikes, and is an extreme flyball pitcher, is much more likely to continue to defy the stat wisdom and continue to pitch well.

I would argue that Franklin pitches either go out of the park, or hang in the air long enough to be caught. Lets look at the M's pitching staff.

Jamie Moyer21519914040195.861.670.80
Ryan Franklin21219913827345.861.151.44
Joel Pineiro21219213736195.821.530.81
Freddy Garcia20119613839316.181.751.39
Gil Meche18618713830306.671.451.45

Franklin only gave up 27 extra base hits last year that were not home runs. His single rate seems pretty consistent with other pitchers on the staff, but he gave up far fewer extra base hits than any other pitcher. I would argue that its because Franklin is an extreme flyball pitcher, and that most of these well-hit balls either go out of the park, or hang up there to be caught. A groundball/linedrive pitcher has to worry more about shots down the line. Will Franklin miss Cameron/Winn in center-left. Maybe, but

Actually, the interesting thing about Franklin is that he pitched better AWAY from Safeco. He pitched 30 more innings at Safeco than on the road, but gave up ten more home runs (22-12) and 9 more extra base hits (18-9).

And an important fact that seems to be ignored by many in the blogosphere. Franklin was BETTER in the second half than in the first half of the season. There aren't too many Mariners you can say that about. Franklin in first half gave up 1.8 HR/9 vs. 1.1 in the second half. His ERA dropped by nearly half a run. This is not a pitcher getting lucky, this is a pitcher getting better.

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