Tuesday, March 23, 2004

That kid from Spiro, Oklahoma
Today is apparently Ryan Franklin Home-run rate week. USS Mariner posted a flurry of discussions, and directed us to Jeff's post at Fire Bavasi for a more concise comparison of Franklin to the rest of the M's staff. Many stat-friendly analysts, like those at Baseball Prospectus and many around the Blogosphere, are predicting Ryan Franklin is due for a down year.

Because I think this is such a relevant article, I'm posting it now and getting to my other comments later. The question I have for all the Franklin nay-sayers is this: why is Franklin not like the pitchers listed in this article? Are his three effective years all lucky, or is he, like Reuter and Cornejo, finding a different way to be effective?

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.

USS Mariner regular (and Baseball Prospectus author) Derek Zumsteg grudgingly acknowledges that Franklin actually did get the least amount of run support last year. That doesn't mean Franklin won't give up more runs this year, but it does mean that if the Mariners are more efficient with their run scoring--that is, they don't "waste" runs on days when their top pitchers are on the mound--a decline by Franklin won't result in more losses. We can expect this simply through regression-to-the-mean: the Mariners are more likely to distribute their run support more evenly than they did last year, so Franklin will get more run support. This might also be one reason why the M's won fewer games last year than their run differential would suggest (Run Differentials, the difference between runs allowed and runs scored, can be translated into predicted wins and losses. Check out "Pythagorean Standings at the bottom of Rob Neyer's home page.)

I, for one, am holding out hope that Franklin will find ways to be effective despite a low strikeout rate, as he has done for the past three years. But it is hope, not empirically based prediction. Would it were that Bill Bavasi might learn the difference.

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