As has been well documented in this space, John Lannan has defied DIPS theory for much of his career, posting a 3.98 career ERA in 438.2 career innings despite a 4.83 FIP and a 4.65 xFIP. Lannan doesn’t strike out many batters (4.58 career K/9) and walks too many (3.41 BB/9) to be considered an elite control pitcher. His only redeemable quality as a pitcher is his extreme ground ball rate – 52.7% for his career to only a 29.0% fly ball rate.
Through three starts, Lannan’s peripherals had dipped to a career low level – in particular, his K/BB was a staggeringly low 0.78. Thanks to his inability to control the strike zone or get batters out through any way but a ground ball, Lannan’s FIP sat at 5.69 entering Wednesday night’s start against Colorado.
Things didn’t improve for Lannan, despite a Nationals victory. On the plus side, Lannan only allowed one walk, but he also couldn’t find the strikeout, either. Finally, allowing so many balls in play is catching up to Lannan. On Wednesday, he allowed 11 hits in total, including one homer, and was pretty much knocked around by the Rockies for the whole game.
Lannan just doesn’t have the type of stuff to make batters miss. His career swinging strike rate of 5.8% is well below the league average, and that has dropped to 3.7% so far this year. On Wednesday, he only drew 2 swinging strikes in 106 pitches – only 1.8% swinging strikes. A pitcher cannot rely on called strikes to induce strikeouts, and at the rate that Lannan is drawing whiffs both for this season and for his career as a whole, he likely won’t be able to draw enough strikeouts to be effective.
The ridiculous amount of balls in play that Lannan allows is finally catching up to him, it would appear. It is a long season, and there is time for Lannan to revert to the form that added up to that 3.98 ERA the first few years of his career. As Joe mentioned earlier this month, Lannan has been a bit of a study in DIPS theory for his whole career. What we’re seeing now is much closer to what DIPS theory would tell us to expect from a pitcher like Lannan.