On Nick Franklin and Promotions
I guess this is the off-day topic du jour: should the Mariners promote Nick Franklin, who was hitting .400/.524/.600 in Tacoma before his 0-4 night tonight? Marc emailed me to find out if I had a take, so I guess I should weigh in. I will note, though, that my opinion is basically ambivalence.
I think you can make a pretty good case that Nick Franklin is a better player, right now, than Robert Andino, because Robert Andino is basically a scrub, so the bar we’re asking Franklin to clear is very low. So, if the only question that mattered was whether or not Franklin would make the 2013 Mariners better, then yes, I’d probably support calling him up, and either jettisoning Andino — who would almost certainly clear waivers, given his salary, so putting him through waivers doesn’t guarantee you’d lose him — or dumping Ibanez and giving the team a little more flexibility on the bench. But, I think we all know the latter has no chance of happening, so we’ll set that aside for now.
But promoting a player from Triple-A isn’t simply about whether he’s better than a bad player on the big league roster, especially for a team in the Mariners situation. I know there’s some optimism returning now that the Mariners spent a week beating up on bad pitching staffs — their last 10 games have come against the teams rated 27th, 29th, and 30th in the majors in xFIP, and the Blue Jays are rated 28th, so this is the softest possible schedule to hit against — but the chances of the 2013 Mariners making the playoffs are essentially slim to none.
Dan Szymborski re-ran his ZIPS projections on May 1st, and he had the Mariners with a playoff probability of 2.5%, down from 10% on opening day. While you can say that April was just one month, it was a month that made it exceedingly unlikely that this team would put together a surprise run to October this year.
So, I don’t think the Mariners should be attempting to maximize 2013 wins at all cost right now. If they’re going to promote a player from the minor leagues, it should be because his development will be more fruitful facing Major League competition than facing minor league competition. And I don’t think I can say that’s true of Nick Franklin.
Yes, the batting line is fantastic, but please keep a few things in mind:
1. It’s not even 90 plate appearances. Weird things happen in a month. Carlos Gomez is currently the fourth best hitter in MLB. Lucas Duda is hitting as well as Prince Fielder. 90 plate appearances, at any level, simply do not tell a real story. Nick Franklin has been very good in Triple-A for a month, but he was pretty bad there for a few months last year. There are signs that he’s improving, which is good, but it’s not like he’s dominated PCL pitching.
Right now, he’s drawing walks and he has a high BABIP. The BABIP is almost certainly not going to carry over, and the walks aren’t that likely to either, unfortunately. Walk rate has one of the weakest correlations of any statistic between the minors and the majors. That he’s making better contact and controlling the strike zone is certainly a positive development, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to do that exact same thing when he faces big league pitching.
2. It’s the PCL. You have to heavily discount offensive numbers for everyone in Tacoma because of the league they play in. It is the most hitter friendly league in the entire sport. The difference between the run environment in Tacoma and in Seattle is as stark as any you’ll find. Not only is Franklin facing minor league pitching, he’s facing minor league pitching in ballparks where is downright scary to throw a strike.
People underestimate park effects for non-HR events. You hear that a guy got hurt by Safeco when his long fly ball gets caught at the warning track, but people don’t talk about the rest of the things that go along with high run environments. Because there are more baserunners, it’s more likely that a hitter will face the same pitcher multiple times, and hitters perform better against pitchers they’ve already faced that day, with the improvement increasing each time around the order. Most Triple-A teams don’t have great middle relievers, either, so high scoring games lead to the worst pitchers on the staff getting onto the mound at increased frequency.
It’s not as simple as noting that Franklin only has three home runs so the PCL effects aren’t helping him. It’s a great league for hitters for a variety of reasons, and you have to account for those whenever you’re looking at any PCL hitter, not just the guys like Carlos Peguero or Mike Carp.
3. Nick Franklin has primarily been playing second base. His start at shortstop tonight was only his seventh of the year at the position, even though the obvious playing time for him in Seattle would be at short. Put simply, there aren’t that many people who think that he’s physically capable of playing shortstop in the big leagues at an acceptable level. Now, I think it’s at least somewhat humorous that the Mariners might not be willing to play Franklin at short while also catching Jesus Montero and using guys like Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez in the outfield, but if Franklin is to shortstops what Jesus Montero is to catching, then playing him there probably won’t help the team in a meaningful way and may very well hurt his trade value.
There’s an old phrase that goes something like this: “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” A lot of people think Nick Franklin probably can’t play shortstop long term, but sticking him there in the big leagues will essentially give every team a chance to see his shortcomings for themselves, on a pretty grand stage. Especially if you’re scouting the Mariners and you get Franklin one day and Brendan Ryan the next, or if Ryan comes in as a late inning defensive replacement, the contrast is going to be highly unflattering.
The Mariners already traded Nick Franklin once. Assuming they’re not ready to give up on Dustin Ackley, I wouldn’t be surprised if they expected to try and trade him again at some point in the future. Brad Miller is the current shortstop of the future, so Franklin would just be auditioning to play out of position for a while until Miller took his job — which he might be ready to do later this year, if he can stop making so many errors, anyway — and the potential damage that might do to Franklin’s trade value has to be a consideration.
Nick Franklin would probably make the Mariners a little bit better, if they dumped Robert Andino in order to call him up. He would probably make the Mariners no better, or not significantly better, if they dumped Brendan Ryan in order to call him up. He would not make the Mariners drastically better, and the difference in 2013 value probably wouldn’t have any meaningful positive impact on the franchise long term.
You don’t call Nick Franklin up because you’re tired of Brendan Ryan making outs, or because you just want to try something different. That’s not a good thought process. That’s an emotional reaction to frustration, and it isn’t how the Mariners should be deciding who is on the roster. You call up Nick Franklin if you think you have an everyday job for him that he’s capable of succeeding in. I don’t know too many people who think Nick Franklin is ready to handle an everyday SS job in the big leagues. It won’t hurt him to spend more time in Tacoma. It won’t hurt the Mariners to keep playing Brendan Ryan at shortstop.
If they make the switch, I won’t be outraged. After all, they’ve already rushed Brandon Maurer into a rotation spot he’s not ready for, and they’re asking Jesus Montero to play a position he can’t physically play, and there’s no way Franklin’s defense at short can be as embarrassing as Ibanez’s in the outfield. But I’m not sure calling up Nick Franklin actually solves any problems for the Mariners unless your view of a team’s problems are so narrow that they’re constrained to “we need more offense from the shortstop position.” That shouldn’t be how the organization views it’s problems. The Mariners roster needs more talented players, but it needs those talented players to be put in a position to succeed. Forcing a round peg into a square hole simply because you really want the peg to be square doesn’t work.
Nick Franklin’s real value to the Mariners is insurance in case Ackley continues to suck or a trade chip in case he does not. Could they play him at short for a while and get away with it? Maybe, and it might even get them an extra win in a season where an extra win won’t matter. But I don’t see a compelling case to push Franklin into a role he’s probably not suited for in order to chase that kind of upgrade.