Franklin’s blown saves – joke or no joke?

In a Monday article acknowledging Jason Isringhausen’s first outing with his new Tampa Bay club, the AP added some sour grapes commentary from Izzy’s former bullpen mate Ryan Franklin.

The gripes weren’t about Isringhausen – they were about how Franklin’s 2008 stint as the St. Louis Cardinals closer has been remembered. Despite having lost the closer’s job for the same reason Izzy did, ineffectiveness, Franklin has his own unique perspective on what exactly happened.

Said the AP:

Franklin is a bit defensive about his statistics last year, noting at least a couple of his blown saves came in games where he had virtually no shot. He entered one with the bases loaded and gave up a tying sacrifice fly. Another occurred in the sixth inning.

“There were some joke blown saves,” Franklin said. “You kidding me?”

Who is kidding who?

Having a different recollection than Franklin, I decided to get to the bottom of this by a simple view of his 2008 performance as seen through the game logs from his blown save contests.

First of all, the cold, hard facts say that Franklin made good on just 17 of his 25 save opportunities for a conversion rate of 68%. In other words, he basically blew one of every three chances presented him.

As such, I can see why Franklin might be sensitive. After all, his record was simply not very good. Yet as bad as Isringhausen’s 2008 season was, his save mark was very close at 63%.

Now I will look at each of Franklin’s eight blown saves and call them as I see them – either “joke”, meaning the blown save was not justified, or “no joke”, meaning Franklin got what he deserved.

We’ll tabulate the score at the end.

April 1: Franklin took over to start the eighth inning on opening day, protecting a 1-0 lead. He coughed up a single and a ground rule double. A no-out error allowed the first run in. Franklin was pulled after giving up a walk to the next batter, still with no outs.

After collecting two strikeouts, Randy Flores walked in the winning run. Two unearned runs were charged to Franklin as he took the blown save and loss. Because Franklin created the mess, I have to call this no joke, despite what he may think.

April 21: Franklin came in to open the eighth in a one-run game. He allowed a run on two hits and a one-out error then gave up another hit before getting out of the inning. He took the blown save, but the Cardinals came back in the ninth to grab the win. No joke.

June 5: The Cardinals had fought back to take a 9-8 lead in the top of the tenth inning. Franklin opened the bottom of the frame by yielding a single and a walk off two-run home run to end the game. No joke.

June 26: Protecting a one-run lead, Franklin opened the ninth inning. A one-out solo home run tied the game, which Mike Parisi lost in the tenth. No joke.

July 24: Franklin took over with two out in the eighth and the bases empty. He collected the third out and remained in for the ninth to protect the Cards’ one-run lead. After a single, a two-run home run turned the tables. Franklin took the blown save and the loss, his second in a row. The previous evening’s defeat was not in a save situation. No joke.

July 26: The Cardinals turned the ball over to Franklin to open the ninth with an 8-7 lead. The first batter hit a home run. Franklin took the blown save in a game that the Cardinals eventually won in 14 innings. No joke.

August 5: Franklin took over for Isringhausen with one out in the ninth. The bases were loaded and three runs were already in to turn a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 nail-biter. Franklin yielded a sacrifice fly to tie the game and as such was charged with the blown save. The Cards eventually won in the 11th. Finally, a legitimate joke.

September 26: Franklin was given the ball with one out in the ninth to protect a two-run lead. A single, a stolen base and a two-run home run erased St. Louis’ margin. Franklin picked up a vulture win when the Cardinals broke the tie in the bottom on the ninth. No joke.

Many closers say they put the previous game out of their mind, whether good or bad. I can understand that line of thinking, but I don’t really believe it. Perhaps in this case however, Franklin has in fact selectively forgotten all the bad.

By my count, seven of Franklin’s eight blown saves in 2008 were not a joke, despite what his revisionist version of history might say.

The AP apparently bought into the excuse. As noted above, they mentioned both the bases-loaded “joke” game as well as a mystery contest in which Franklin supposedly took a blown save in the sixth inning. I could find no such game.

By throwing the single legitimate “joke” game away, Franklin’s 2008 save percentage would have rocketed all the way from 68% up to 71%. In a point of comparison, through all the times of good and bad, Izzy’s Cardinals career save mark was 85%.

Data point number two. Last season, Franklin’s overall ERA was 3.55. In his 49 lower-pressure appearances, his ERA was a nifty 2.94. In the 25 crunch time, save-situation games in 2008, it was 4.72, almost two runs worse.

Who is kidding who?