Who will be the St. Louis Cardinals' Closer?

Jason Isringhausen: Cardinals closer since 2002

Who from among Jason Isringhausen, Ryan Franklin or Chris Perez will carry ninth-inning duties for the remainder of the St. Louis Cardinals' 2008 season?

When Jason Isringhausen trudged off the Busch Stadium mound on May 15, he had lost more than the game that evening – the 35-year-old closer's confidence was shot as well. That's what six blown saves and five losses in the first six weeks of the season will do for even the most experienced veteran.

Nearly a month later, Izzy is working his way back to the St. Louis Cardinals after a protracted stay on the disabled list. It was officially attributed to a contusion to his hand which allegedly occurred about a week prior to the May 15 meltdown when the pitcher took out his frustration on a television set.

Though Isringhausen had an injury-free 2007, his manager Tony La Russa went out of his way to explain that during 2008 spring training that he would use his closer sparingly to save his bullets for later. Especially considering Izzy's past hip problems, the move seemed wise

Yet, as soon as the regular season began, the surprising Cardinals began to play close game after close game – contests they could and did win. A by-product was aggressive use of Izzy.

Specifically, the closer took the ball in half of his club's first two dozen games, 12 appearances through April 25. By the time he called it quits temporarily, he was still taking the mound in every other game – 21 appearances in 43 Cardinals games.

Even in his younger days, Izzy had never pitched in 80 games, as his early usage pace in 2008 projected. In his seven full healthy seasons since becoming a full-time closer, Isringhausen averaged 64 games, with a high of 74 achieved four seasons ago.

Pitching for a 2008 Cardinals club that is overachieving but not dominating could mean the close games and save opportunities will continue. Will Izzy be up to the task? Should he be given each and every chance?

While Isringhausen was away, the Cardinals have continued to play well. In fact, while it may be coincidental, coming into Friday's game, the club has won a significantly higher percentage of their contests since Izzy went onto the DL.

Cardinals 

W

L 

%

Through May 15

24

19

55.8%

Since May 15

16

9

64.0%

Of those 16 most recent wins, former set-up man Ryan Franklin has saved six and won a seventh. Also 35 years of age, he had only one dreadful outing since Izzy's departure, a loss and blown save in game two of the rain-driven double-header in Washington, D.C. last Thursday.

Many, myself included, didn't give Franklin much of a chance when he was brought into 2007 spring training camp as a non-rostered player ostensibly to compete for a rotation spot. The former Seattle starting right-hander made the team as a reliever and cashed a nice season into a somewhat surprising two-year contract extension this past off-season.

Most observers would look at the data and conclude Franklin has done a good job covering for Isringhausen. Looking a bit deeper at the data shows Franklin the closer hasn't pitched as well as Franklin the set-up man.

Oddly, his strikeout rate has more than doubled, but his rate of baserunners allowed, approximated by a stat called WHIP, walks and hits per inning pitched, has also gone up at an alarming rate.

Even worse is an ERA that is just over two runs higher as the closer than it was when Franklin was setting up.

Franklin

G

IP

ERA

WHIP

K/9 IP

Through May 15

21

29.1

1.80

1.25

4.05

Since May 15

10

9.1

3.87

1.40

10.65

Now, let's compare Franklin with his peers. I selected all National League closers with as many or more saves this season as Franklin, eight. There are 16, including him. You will see two entries for Franklin. One is his entire season, listed as "tot". The other line is his time as closer, shown as "CL".

Considering his six of seven results in save situations, Franklin the closer's 86% success ratio would place him fifth-best in the league. However, because of earlier blown saves, Franklin in total this season is tied for third to the bottom in success rate, with only Izzy and fellow imploded closer Eric Gagne in Milwaukee worse.

 

Closer

TM

SV

BS

SVO

Conv %

1

Brad Lidge

PHI

18

0

18

100%

2

Matt Capps

PIT

16

1

17

94%

3

Brian Wilson

SFO

19

2

21

90%

4

Brandon Lyon

ARI

14

2

16

88%

5

Ryan Franklin (CL)

STL

6

1

7

86%

6

Jose Valverde

HOU

16

3

19

84%

7

Trevor Hoffman

SDG

15

3

18

83%

8

Kerry Wood

CHC

18

4

22

82%

9

Jon Rauch

WAS

13

3

16

81%

10

Francisco Cordero

CIN

12

3

15

80%

11

Billy Wagner

NYM

13

4

17

76%

T12

Kevin Gregg

FLA

12

4

16

75%

T12

Brian Fuentes

COL

9

3

12

75%

T14

Takashi Saito

LAD

8

3

11

73%

T14

Ryan Franklin (tot)

STL

8

3

11

73%

16

Eric Gagne

MIL

10

5

15

67%

17

Jason Isringhausen

STL

11

6

17

65%

(Legend: SV=saves, BS=blown saves, SVO=total save opportunities, Conv %=percent SVO converted)

Franklin the closer's 3.87 Earned Run Average would put him in the bottom third of NL ninth-inning men with eight or more saves.

 

 

ERA

1

Brad Lidge

0.93

2

Brandon Lyon

1.79

3

Takashi Saito

2.03

4

Billy Wagner

2.33

5

Brian Fuentes

2.36

6

Ryan Franklin (tot)

2.45

7

Kerry Wood

2.48

8

Kevin Gregg

2.48

9

Matt Capps

2.56

10

Francisco Cordero

2.73

11

Jon Rauch

2.76

12

Ryan Franklin (CL)

3.87

13

Brian Wilson

3.90

14

Jose Valverde

3.94

15

Trevor Hoffman

4.50

16

Eric Gagne

6.98

17

Jason Isringhausen

8.00

The view of Franklin's WHIP is even worse. His 1.40 mark is poor, with only Gagne and Izzy worse among top NL closers - an indication that if maintained, the additional baserunners will eventually erode his favorable won-loss and save conversion rate and probably continue to fatten his ERA.

 

 

WHIP

1

Kerry Wood

0.83

2

Matt Capps

0.98

T3

Brad Lidge

1.00

T3

Billy Wagner

1.00

5

Jon Rauch

1.04

6

Takashi Saito

1.09

7

Brandon Lyon

1.11

8

Kevin Gregg

1.12

9

Francisco Cordero

1.18

10

Brian Fuentes

1.19

11

Trevor Hoffman

1.21

12

Ryan Franklin (tot)

1.30

13

Brian Wilson

1.30

14

Jose Valverde

1.34

15

Ryan Franklin (CL)

1.40

16

Jason Isringhausen

1.78

17

Eric Gagne

2.02

The other coincident move with Izzy's May 15 DL visit was the major league introduction of the club's "closer of the future" from Triple-A Memphis, Chris Perez. The organization's supplemental-round draft pick in 2006 from the University of Miami is just 22 years old, but has since shown he belongs in the bigs.

La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan were wise to not throw Perez into the closer's fire day one. Yet, they have given him meaningful opportunities and he has met the challenge every time, with no runs allowed in 11 of his 13 outings.

2008 G IP ERA WHIP K/9 IP
Perez 13 11.1 1.59 0.99 7.3
Franklin 31 29.1 3.87 1.40 6.2
Isringhausen 21 18 8.00 1.78 6.0

As the club's all-time saves leader with 216, Izzy's experience dictates he should and will receive a chance to close again. If he struggles a second time, however, there is no reason to turn to Franklin again. The future of the Cardinals ninth-inning duties ought to belong to Perez.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2008 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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