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Is Frank Francisco MLB's Next Great Closer?

Francisco Rodriguez. Joe Nathan. Jonathan Papelbon. Each young closer has risen from relative anonymity (at least outside of the realm of their respective fandom) to follow the path of the godfather of closers, Mariano Rivera, to national prominence while pitching in the crucible of ninth inning relief.

Now there are a pair of young relievers who could ably follow in their footsteps. One of them is Joakim Soria, who has garnered attention as an integral part of Kansas City's revived baseball fortunes (it's almost as if the city remembered it had a baseball team after 15 years, isn't it?). If you could name who the other one was before you saw the headline of this post, you're doing pretty well for yourself.

Without any significant attention of note, Texas's Frank Francisco has emerged as a dominant closer. He was tied for the major league lead in saves as of Tuesday, and his 0.00 ERA is, statistically, the best in history (obviously). It won't last, but hey, it's impressive for awhile, particularly since he's nearing double-digits in saves without letting in a run ... and only seven hits, for that matter.

The article linked above, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, cites Francisco's low-key temperament and personality as the key to his success, but there are more compelling numbers to back that up. He's holding opposing hitters to a measly .173 batting average. And this isn't the first time Francisco has been so dominant: Last summer he didn't allow a run after mid-August, pitching perfect innings from August 18 on.

Those numbers stack up extremely well when compared with the early relief careers of Papelbon and, Rodriguez, in particular. When breaking in as a set-up man in 2004, Rodriguez racked up 12 saves with a WHIP of 1.000 as he segued into his full-time final inning gig in 2005, when he saved an impressive 45 games. As for Papelbon, his WHIP was 1.471 in 2005 before taking over as closer in '06, when he saved 35 games.

Francisco? His 2008 WHIP was 0.952, better than either Rodriguez or Papelbon, and his WHIP has increased at almost exactly the rate that Papelbon and Rodriguez's did when they took over as full-time closers.

Does this mean that he'll be able to keep up his torrid pace? Who knows. One thing is certain: He's off to a heck of a start.

By Cameron Smith  |  May 15, 2009; 4:34 PM ET
Categories:  Rangers  
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One other thing that Soria and Fransisco have in common is that they are both on the DL. He's a lot older now than when K-Rod and Papelbon started closing. #4 on his list of comparables on his B-Ref page is Saul Rivera. Another coincidence is that were he with the club who first signed him, he would not likely be the closer because their closer is Jonathan Papelbon. That team also has his #1 comparable, Ramon Ramirez.

Didn't he throw a chair in an incident in Anaheim his rookie year? Yes!
Add in an injury history, too (wiki says 2005 TJ surgery).

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | May 17, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

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