Monday, May 3, 2010

So, what's up with Lannan?

Alright, so this morning, you'll inevitably read a lot about how John Lannan has completely lost his effectiveness and his stuff, that he's not going to get it back, that he's washed up and his pitching style has caught up to him. Some people may believe this, some people may just want to use Lannan as a scape goat after an ugly 9-3 loss, some people may be struggling for a story on a rainy off-day in Washington, DC. I'm going to take the sabermetrics of Lannan's decline and say to everyone, I think you're wrong.

I'm not going to make a prediction that Lannan will have a huge comeback next week and his ERA will plummet and his ground ball rate will get better, and it will be a happily ever after story. Because I'm not convinced that is possible because of what we've seen from John so far in 2010. He's looked uncomfortable, missing spots from Nieves all season, and leaving balls up in the zone (which he has never done in his career). If I were only looking at sabermetric stats, and articles like this one on FanGraphs, I would think this was by far John Lannan's worst statistical year ever. Well, let's cut to the basics and look at some more conventional stats.

For the sake of argument, I'm going to take look at Lannan's two full seasons (2008, 2009), not his partial 2007 season. Let's look at ERA first:
  • 2008: 3.91
  • 2009: 3.88
  • Current 2010: 6.34
Yes, this is much higher this year. I concede the point that Lannan is giving up more earned runs this year, on average, than he did in the previous two. But remember, this is after 4 starts. Not an end of the year stat. Let's breakdown a few other bits:
  • HR/9: 2008: 1.1; 2009: 1.0; 2010: 1.1
  • BB/9: 2008: 3.6; 2009: 3.0; 2010: 5.0
  • SO/9: 2008: 5.8; 2009: 3.9; 2010: 3.3
As we can see, Lannan's home runs given up has stayed about the same, while his walks have increased dramatically, and his strikeouts have decreased marginally. You can easily argue that 2009 was, statiscally, John Lannan's best year of his career. (Again, we're comparing to FOUR starts in 2010.) Coming into this year as the "established ace" of the rotation, the rest of the MLB may have simply figured Lannan out. But I think the better argument is that he's beating himself on the mount.

Watching Lannan last season, it was fun to watch him pitch to contact with ground ball after ground ball. Unfortunately, our defense was so bad, it's remarkable that he ended up as good as he did. This year, we have put a competent defense behind him, and Lannan can't seem to get it over the plate. And when he does, he's throwing meatballs up in the zone. (See: H. Ramirez home run and C. Ross double off the wall yesterday against the Marlins.)

The fact remains, this Nationals team is still building, and Lannan was supposed to be one of the consistent staples. He hasn't been, and so he's getting the blame. Maybe deservedly so, maybe not. But let me say one more time, Lannan has still pitched in just 4 games. This is a ridiculously small body of work, considering Lannan probably has somewhere around 150 more innings to pitch this season if his career holds true. He hasn't been hurt in two seasons, after all. Scott Olsen's stats didn't look much better after his first two starts stat-wise (although he had more Ks). But he's worked himself out.

Like I said, I'm not going to make the "bold prediction" and say that John Lannan will come back next time against the Marlins this weekend and pitch 9 innings of shut out ball. That would be stupid (though not impossible). But I am saying that we haven't seen the best of John Lannan this year, and I am confident in his next 15 starts, he will get better, not worse. This team has a the kind of drive this season that we haven't seen in the District in quite some time (see 2009 Redskins; 2010 playoff Caps; and 2010 Wizards). The Nationals want to win, and they want it bad. They finally got a taste of what it was like early this season, and they liked it far too much to let it go. John Lannan is no exception.