Frank Francisco came on in the ninth inning last night and retired the side in order to pick up his eighth save of the year, looking pretty good in the process. Five weeks into his Mets tenure – how do you feel about Francisco as the team’s closer? Do you feel pretty good or do you get a sick feeling in your stomach when he strides into the game?
A closer’s worth is judged primarily on his ability to get the final three outs of a tight game. So far this year, Francisco has closed the door and picked up the save in eight of his nine opportunities. In a season where 14 teams have switched closers (some due to injury) since Spring Training began, the Mets seem to be in good hands with a healthy closer with an 89 percent success ratio.
If we go back to last year, we see Francisco Rodriguez was successful on 23 of his 26 save chances (88 percent) before he was dealt to the Brewers. Jason Isringhausen did well, converting seven of eight (88 percent) save chances. But Bobby Parnell struggled as the team’s closer, as he nailed down just six of 10 (60 percent) of his save chances.
It was Parnell’s results in his six week audition in the closer’s role which primarily led Sandy Alderson to focus so much on the bullpen in the offseason. The results have been mixed, as Mets relievers have the 14th-worst ERA (4.57) and WHIP (1.533) in the 16-team NL. Yet Francisco has brought stability to the ninth inning.
However, if you examine Francisco as a pitcher rather than a closer, the numbers are far less impressive. In 14 G covering 13 IP, he has a 5.54 ERA and a 1.615 WHIP. Francisco’s 4.29 xFIP ranks last among the 13 relievers with at least six saves, and he is one of three players in this group to have a negative fWAR.
Rodriguez gave up earned runs in five of six appearances between April 18th and April 29th. Let’s look at those games:
4/18 – After not pitching in five days, Rodriguez came on in the 8th inning of a game in which the Mets trailed by six runs and he allowed two more, both earned.
4/20 – Came on in a tied game in the 10th inning, gave up a leadoff walk and eventually an RBI single to Hector Sanchez to take the loss.
4/21 – Came on in the ninth inning with a 4-1 lead, faced four batters and gave up two singles and a walk before being replaced. Jon Rauch allowed two inherited runners to score, leaving Francisco with 3 ER.
4/24 – Picked up his fourth save of the year and did not allow a run.
4/28 – Came on in the ninth with a 7-4 lead, gave up a solo HR to Dexter Fowler but picked up his fifth save.
4/29 – Came on in the 10th with a 5-4 lead and gave up a solo HR to Carlos Gonzalez to pick up the blown save. He escaped further damage and was awarded the win when the Mets scored in the 11th.
Do you have any idea what Sanchez, Fowler, Gonzalez and three of the four batters he faced on 4/21 have in common? They all batted from the left side. This year LHB have a 1.056 OPS against Francisco despite a .292 BABIP. Last year, Francisco limited RHB to a .568 OPS but LHB posted an .819 mark against him.
A closer who cannot get out LHB is potentially a big problem for the Mets, especially with just one lefty reliever on the squad. With Raul Ibanez gone and both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the DL, the Phillies are not nearly as lefty-heavy as they have been the past few years. Still, when Francisco retired the side in order last night, he faced two guys batting from the left side of the plate. However they were switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, both with a sub .550 OPS this year versus RHP.
While Francisco escaped last night, the Braves’ lineup is stacked with lefties and the Nationals with Bryce Harper called up from the minors, have a bunch of LHB, too. For the most part, Francisco has gotten the job done in save situations this year. But with a pronounced problem versus lefties, it is easy to imagine some rough outings in the future.