We should probably have seen John Lannan‘s acquisition coming. The Phillies were intimately familiar with Lannan, for reasons both good (the Phils had smacked him around for a collective .899 OPS over 448 plate appearances) and bad (he was ejected from his debut for hitting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard consecutively, the former derailing a possible MVP season). So Ruben Amaro opted for the traditional boring fifth starter play, taking the divisional guy that could grind away some innings and, theoretically anyway, keep the game winnable. It wasn’t a bad idea, either. Prior to 2013, Lannan had been essentially league average in terms of ERA, which would have been more than effective enough for the last slot in the rotation on any team.
The Lannan model was basically the slightly-poorer-man’s Kyle Kendrick: approach the hitter with three or four unspectacular offerings, try to get a lot of ground balls, maybe miss a bat or two on a good day (but probably not), and don’t break anyone’s hand if their team has a fanbase known for holding a grudge. It had worked reasonably well for him up until this season. The balance between his four-seamer and sinker fluctuated rather oddly from season to season, but he had always kept his ground ball rate above 50%, his platoon splits about even, and his BABIP suppressed; these were all important because he only ever struck out about 12% of the hitters he faced, which is, to put it simply, quite bad. As a matter of fact, from 2007 to 2012, minimum 500 IP, both Lannan and Kendrick were in the bottom 10 of strikeouts per nine innings, among such pitching luminaries as Aaron Cook, Nick Blackburn, and Jeff Suppan.
Still, it had worked for him, and besides, Ruben Amaro doesn’t care about strikeouts. With Roy Halladay entering the season as a big unknown (stay tuned later in the month for my combined Roy Halladay report card/suicide note), rotation depth was vital. Lannan on a cheap, incentive-laden contract was a hard proposition to argue with.
Then the 2013 Phillies season happened. You recall: everything was terrible. For reasons unknown, Lannan moved away from his sinker, or else it changed enough to confuse Brooks Baseball’s very reliable manual classifications. I was unable to find any mention or discussion of this, although Ian Desmond seems to think he was toying with a cutter. He continued to try and work his slider against left-handed hitters, and drop in the curve against righties, but the slider stopped being effective. Lefties knocked him around for a .368 wOBA, his highest in that split since 2009. His ground ball rate dipped, in favor of fly balls. He stranded less runners, and more batted balls found the grass. For a guy whose strikeout rate has been distressingly similar to his walk rate for most of his career, that’s about all it takes.
On August 14th, two days before Charlie Manuel was unceremoniously dispatched, Lannan allowed 5 runs to the Braves over one and one third innings, leaving the game with what would turn out to be season-ending tendon damage in his left knee. It’s unclear if the injury had been brewing prior to that start. A seemingly unrelated tendon strain in his quad had held him out for the month of May. Interestingly, up until his previous start on August 9th, in which he allowed 8 runs over 5 innings to his former team, his ERA had sat at a not-so-bad-for-a-fifth-starter 4.10. Either way, the bottom of the Phillies rotation hadn’t really mattered one way or the other since mid-July. There was nothing for Lannan to pitch for but the fun of it.
Lannan will turn 29 next season. If the knee heals up, he will likely not have a problem getting a spring training invite, though it’s doubtful to be in Clearwater. Bringing him on for 2013 was a good low-risk move, but it’s not as if anything else really worked out this season. I gave Lannan a D-. Grades from the rest of the Crashburn crew:
Update: This article has been edited to reflect that I’m a dumb idiot man who gets facts about Charlie Manuel wrong. Thank you to Marybeth for the correction.