“Frankie and the Teenagers” to play in St. Louis

While one of my non-baseball interests is classic rock-‘n-roll, I am not announcing a new greatest hits package by the 1950’s doo-wop hit-makers and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

Instead, I hereby re-apply the moniker to the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals bullpen, headlined by veteran Ryan Franklin, aka Frankie. The nine-year veteran is the leader of the band with over 1000 career innings in the majors.

The group behind Franklin when the club breaks camp from Jupiter, Florida at the end of March could include six far less-experienced relievers. While veteran left-hander Trever Miller and righty Brad Thompson have accrued over 700 big-league innings of work between them, the other four are greener than the infield grass that surrounds Busch Stadium’s mound.

While not true teenagers anymore, the quartet is certainly made up of baseball teenagers, with a total of just under 130 career MLB innings among them. They are lefty Charlie Manning and right-handers Josh Kinney, Jason Motte and Chris Perez. The fresh-faced Thompson could also fit right in with the Cards’ budding kiddie corps.

2009 Career IP subtotal
Ryan Franklin 1047.7
Trever Miller 422.3
Brad Thompson 305.7
subtotal 1775.7
Charlie Manning 42
Chris Perez 41.7
Josh Kinney 32
Jason Motte 11
subtotal 126.7
total 1902.3

Noticeably absent from this initial group is Kyle McClellan. The club’s Rookie of the Year last season when working out of the bullpen is fully preparing for spring as a starter. Yet the right-hander has just 75 2/3 career MLB innings himself. So the 2009 picture wouldn’t change if he was inserted instead of one of the others.

Lefty Royce Ring could also be considered instead of Manning. He has managed to stay up only long enough to have pitched 65 2/3 big-league innings over his four-year career. That is not much difference from Manning’s 42.

Since 1900 total pen innings are tough to put into perspective standing alone, I looked the Cardinals’ top seven relievers last season in terms of innings pitched and their total MLB experience coming into 2008.

2008 Then-career IP
Ron Villone 1069.3
Ryan Franklin 968.7
Jason Isringhausen 864.7
Russ Springer 747.3
Brad Thompson 241
Randy Flores 182.3
Kyle McClellan 0

As you can see, last year’s group in aggregate came into the season with over double the number of MLB mound innings than the projected 2009 gang. Of the four pitchers with over 700 career innings, three are gone for this coming season.

Not only are the experience levels dramatically different from season to season, Franklin and Thompson are the only carryovers from the top seven 2008 pen workload leaders.

To make sure that 2008-2009 wasn’t a fluke, I extended my analysis back each season in the La Russa years, again looking at the aggregate experience coming into that year by the seven that would become the busiest relievers.

“Leaders of the band” denote the team’s most experienced reliever while “Roadie” designate the one of the seven with the fewest career innings pitched coming into that season.

Bullpen Career IP YTY Leader of the band IP Roadie IP
2009 1902.3 -2171 Ryan Franklin 1047.7 Jason Motte 11
2008 4073.3 1427 Ron Villone 1069.3 Kyle McClellan 0
2007 2646.3 1139.3 Ryan Franklin 888.7 Kelvin Jimenez 0
2006 1507 -2127.7 Jason Isringhausen 741 Adam Wainwright 2
2005 3634.7 9.7 Cal Eldred 1331 Brad Thompson 0
2004 3625 -855 Cal Eldred 1264 Kiko Calero 38.3
2003 4480 2209.3 Jeff Fassero 1738 Kiko Calero 0
2002 2270.7 527 Mike Timlin 698.7 Mike Crudale 0
2001 1743.7 -732.7 Mike Timlin 626 Mike Matthews 9.3
2000 2476.3 678 Heathcliff Slocumb 562.3 Gene Stechschulte 0
1999 1798.3 -108 Heathcliff Slocumb 500.3 Rich Croushore 54.3
1998 1906.3 -2044 Jeff Brantley 723.7 Rich Croushore 0
1997 3950.3 -2475.3 Dennis Eckersley 3193 Rigo Beltran 0
Brady Raggio 0
1996 6425.7 Dennis Eckersley 3133 Cory Bailey 23.7

There’s a lot to consume here, but what jumps out at me first is the experience drain of 2171 innings from last year to this. That represents the pen’s biggest year-to-year decrease since 1997, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan’s second season in St. Louis.

Surprisingly, “Frankie and the Teenagers”, aka the projected 2009 pen, isn’t the least experienced combo in recent Cardinals seasons, though.

That mark belongs to the group of 2006 relievers, ironically during what became the World Championship regular season. That year, beyond Jason Isringhausen and Braden Looper, the other five relievers each had fewer than 100 career innings on the big mound. The man who would become the post-season star, interim closer Adam Wainwright, had collected just six major league outs coming into the year.

That reminds us there is much more to the end game than just innings pitched.

It remains to be seen whether this summer Cardinals fans will be crying, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” about this 2009 version of “Frankie and the Teenagers” or whether they’ll be filling the aisles while touting them for a different Hall of Fame.

(As always, special thanks to Lee Sinins’ “Complete Baseball Encyclopedia”, a fast and efficient way to look at players’ partial careers and to answer a million other “what if?” questions, too!)