For two years, John Lannan looked like the luckiest man in baseball. In 2008, he struck out just 5.79 per nine and walked 3.56 per nine, yet still ended the year with a 3.91 ERA. His 4.79 FIP suggested that he might be performing a bit above his head. But then in 2009 he saw his strikeout numbers fall to an unfathomable 3.88. His walks decreased a bit, as did his home runs, but that still added up to a 4.70 FIP. Lannan’s ERA that season: 3.88. This year, however, his fortunes have changed.
It started on Opening Day and didn’t get much better after that. Three starts later Jack, commented on Lannan’s continued futility after a six-inning outing against Colorado in which he allowed four runs on 11 hits, striking out two to one walk. “The ridiculous amount of balls in play that Lannan allows is finally catching up to him, it would appear,” Jack wrote. “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.” Yet, that just hasn’t happened.
The White Sox pummeled Lannan yesterday, scoring five runs on 11 hits through four innings. Lannan didn’t walk anyone, but he also struck out just one. He did keep the ball on the ground, inducing 12 ground balls to three fly balls and five line drives. And, to his credit, only one of those 11 hits went for extra bases, a double to Alex Rios. That double, unfortunately, came in the four-run fifth, during which Lannan allowed four straight hits without recording an out. That resulted in three runs. The fourth scored after Miguel Bautista allowed two hits of his own before inducing a run-scoring double play.
After the game, Nats manager Jim Riggleman said, “I believe in John.” After hearing the pronouncement, MASN’s Phil Wood summed up Lannan perfectly:
Make no mistake about it: John Lannan doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He’s never been a strikeout pitcher, and in his short career has relied on command in the bottom of the strike zone. Today, as he had in his past couple of starts, he threw strikes, but very hittable ones. It was too easy for the Chicago hitters to center on the ball and get it over the infield.
Lannan apparently hasn’t had that bottom of the zone precision this year. His groundball rate is down for the third straight year, and his line drive rate is up at 21 percent, which is higher than any point in his career. It suggests that he either isn’t hitting his spots like has in the past, or that hitters know where those spots exist and have exploited them. In any case, it has added up to terrible results, a 5.18 FIP and 5.76 ERA through 14 starts and 75 innings.
Today, we got a bit of a surprise. Earlier this afternoon, MASN’s Ben Goessling reported that Lannan had been optioned to AA Harrisburg. Joel Peralta will take his spot. It sounds like the Nats want Lannan to take the necessary time to again find the stuff that made him so successful in 2008 and 2009. That could take some work, especially if hitters have found his sweet spots. It’s been a sharp fall for the two-time Opening Day starter. It’s no sure thing at all that Lannan finds his way back.