Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lannan Finds Regression Is Mean

John Lannan goes today in Wrigley Field tomorrow in St. Louis, and with the way things are going for him lately I'm sure the wind will be blowing out Cards' bats will be red-hot and Ryan Zimmerman's case of the yips will flare up again.

In this last five starts, The Walrus has allowed five, two, six, four, and seven runs, posting an 8.28 ERA over that time. His overall ERA has jumped from 3.25 to 4.03. Hitters have hammered him to the tune of .349 / .415 / .566 over 28 innings. He bottomed out last Saturday with the worst start of his career, lasting just 1.2 innings, giving up seven hits and two walks without striking out anyone.

So what's happening? The bad news for Nationals fans is that this is probably just a matter of Lannan's luck evening out and the "real" Lannan showing up over the course of a full season.

Lannan has for a long time benefited from unusually good luck. For his career, his BABIP against is .280, and especially for a groundball pitcher with one of the league's worst defenses behind him, that's a number that should be around .310 or above. His xFIP has been 1.22, 0.94, and 0.71 runs higher than his ERA in his three MLB seasons.

Over this rough patch, Lannan's key "controllable" rates haven't changed all that much. His K rate over the last five starts is 9.8%. Prior to that he struck out 9.7%. Either way, he's not missing enough bats to be consistently successful as a mid-rotation starter, nevermind an ace.

Some of his rates have declined a bit. His walk rate is up a couple ticks to 9.8%, compared to 7.3% before that. His groundball rate has been 43.7%, which is a significant decline from his season-long 51.3%. But his line drive rate has been just 17.6%, really no change from his season-long 17.9% rate. So he's pitching worse, but not THAT much worse.

The real difference is that his BABIP against in these five games has been .367. Now that's much higher than we should expect, but the fact is that he'll need a couple more conflagrations like last week to get his overall BABIP back to where it will eventually land in the end.

It's another reason why I think the Zimmermann injury is so devastating. Put Jay-Z, Strasburg, and a solid veteran Randy Wolf-type in the front of the rotation, and that would allow you to move Lannan to #4, where he belongs, and you can fill the #5 hole with one of the glut of back-end guys we've stockpiled like Stammen or Balester. That's a pretty competitive rotation. But forcing Lannan into the #2 or #3 role basically guarantees a sub-.500 record.


hoo said...

Not that it matters, but Martin goes today I believe.

Steven said...

Oops you're right. One of those things that happens when you write posts five days in advance!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure Lannan is at legit future #3. You are saying that he is a #4, but please tell me the 48 or 64 pitchers in the NL that will be better than Lannan? His numbers will be way too good to have 64 better starters than him in the NL.

Steven said...

To have a contender, I think you probably need 3 starters in the top 25 or 30 in the NL, and the NL is clearly the weaker league, but regardless, here are 48 NL starters who are better than Lannan:

Adam Wainwright
Chris Carpenter
Tim Lincecum
Matt Cain
Johan Santana
Clayton Kershaw
Chad Billingsley
Ted Lilly
Carlos Zambrano
Jair Jurrgens
Joel Piniero
Ricky Nolasco
Dan Haren
Yovani Gallardo
Jason Marquis
Ubaldo Jimenez
Aaron Cook
Josh Johnson
Randy Wolf
Cliff Lee
Joe Blanton
J.A. Happ
Cole Hamels
Wandy Rodriguez
Max Scherzer
Jordan Zimmermann
Roy Oswalt
Mike Pelfrey
Jon Garland
Derek Lowe
Kenshin Kawakami
Tommy Hanson
John Maine
Rich Harden
Ryan Dempster
Kyle Lohse
Aaron Harang
Bronson Arroyo
Johnny Cueto
Zach Duke
Paul Maholm
Jonathan Sanchez
Barry Zito
Mat Latos
Brandon Webb
Doug Davis
Brett Myers
Hiroki Kuroda

And by this time next year:
Stephen Strasburg
Jhoulys Chacin

That's 50.

Anonymous said...

Kyle Lohse, Jon Garland, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine are not better than him. There are a lot more on that list that are not better than Lannan. Saying that Barry Zito or Johnathan Sanchez are better pitchers than him is even more laughable. John Lannan has put up great numbers so far with at times the worst defense in baseball. Sanchez and Zito have been given the best defense in baseball. That is a huge gap and they still aren't better than Lannan. Only 25 guys had more quality starts than Lannan this year and only 7 guys had more quality starts than him last year. He is very consistent, but his ERA is usually skewed by a few bad starts as his Quality starts can attest to. You are also assuming that Lannan will stay as a #4 or 5 in 2011 which is ridiculous because Lannan is only 24 years old. He has a lot of room to improve even though he has put up good numbers so far. Guys who pitch 200+ IP with sub 4 ERA's are not #4-5 guys and never have been considered that since the 60's.

Steven said...

If he was a 200 IP sub-4 guy, you'd be right. He's not. I'll bet you $50 that Lannan gets neither 200 IP nor ends the year with an ERA under 4.00.

The guy is striking out 3.75 per 9. That's terrible. His fielding independent ERA is 4.73 and the BABIP is .288. The Nationals fielding has not bit him.

Here's the ERAs of the pitchers in MLB with at least 100 IP and a strikeout/BB ratio as low as Lannan's:

Here are the guys better than Lannan but under 1.5:

See a pattern? Lannan and Doug Davis (the 3.75) are outliers. I admire your loyalty, but he's not what you think he is.

Ben said...

Could it not just be that Lannan's arm is starting to give way and tire. He looks really uncomfortable in his release which could be a symptom of overcompensating for fatigue.

I feel like he tailed off last year as well.

Maybe it's time to implement a pitch limit for anyone under 25.

Steven said...

John Perrotto (I think) at BP had a quote from a scout yesterday saying that Lannan is gassed.

I'd just refer back to my post and say that there isn't a lot of evidence that his actual performance has dropped off all that much. This is who he is.

Anonymous said...

FIP isn't that great of a stat. This is the same stat that said that Johan Santana was the 16th best pitcher in baseball last year behind guys like A.J. Burnett and Ryan Dempster when in reality he was at worst 4th best maybe 5th best pitcher in baseball because he led the NL in ERA while pitching the most innings in the league. A.J. Burnett was not better than him last year.

FIP is flawed because it doesn't take into account holding runners. But, the biggest flaw is that it doesn't take into account what a pitcher does when men are on base. Santana and Lannan to a lesser extent to continually outperform their FIP because they do a good job minimizing the damage on base.

another thing to take into consideration is that the league average for bequeathed runners scoring is about 32% while for Lannan it is over 50% because of the Nats awful bullpen. If you adjust Lannan's ERA to the league average in that category, his ERA is 3.88.

If you told the NL GM's to draft starters for the rest of the season, I would guarantee that Lannan would not be picked 50th or worst. Not even close to that.

Steven said...

You use "quality starts," and you're nitpicking FIP?

If you're right, Rizzo should trade Lannan pronto, because Lannan is being wildly overvalued.

Harper said...

I'm curious to see if Lannan will indeed finish with a below 4.00 ERA and say 180 innings (200 innings? what is this 1986?) and even more so - into next season. If he does - what then? I think when we look at stats we tend to forget the formulas used are generalizations made to work well for the many but imperfect for the individual. The general tendency when someone doesn't fit the mold consistently is not re-evaluation of the player or the method but falling back on blaming it on blind luck. Blind luck may happen over the course of a few months or even a season but 2+ years? 3+ years?

Scott C. said...

Lannan's recent struggles are the result of a loss command, possibly (though I pray not) brought on by fatigue. Over his last 5 starts, his BB/9 is 4.32, up from 2.72 previously. He succeeds by working the corners. When he misses the corners, he's either off the plate for more walks, or down the middle for hard hit balls in play. His normally lower than expected BABIP and higher-than-era FIP are the direct result of getting batters to make weak contact when he's hitting the corners. (That's also why the Nats defense hasn't hurt him as much as one would think). Sure his flyball/groundball/line drive rates aren't much different in this stretch, but those flyballs and groundballs have been hit much harder as he's been getting more of the plate. His HR/9 is up to 1.44 from .86. If he's worn out it'll be a tough September, but I suspect he just hit a rough spot with his mechanics, will sort it out, and will regain his consistent effectiveness over the rest of the season.

Anonymous said...

Lannan was proving the doubters wrong in his last outing vs. one of the best offenses in the NL. I think Scott was right about Lannan's struggles caused by fatigue. One thing the Livan signing did was give Lannan an extra day of rest so with 5 days of rest, Lannan looked rejuvenated. His fastball was consistently around 90, even hitting 91. I think fatigue, not regression was the cause of his recent slump.

Edward J. Cunningham said...

Anonymous was right. Last night was a great outing by Lannan, even though it ended in a no-decision for him. Too bad---he deserves better.

Steven said...

Do I really count as a "doubter" to say that Lannan is a good 4, but not quite adequate for a contender as a 3? Really?

Anonymous said...

Anyone take you up on this?

"If he was a 200 IP sub-4 guy, you'd be right. He's not. I'll bet you $50 that Lannan gets neither 200 IP nor ends the year with an ERA under 4.00."

Steven said...

Nope, but if anyone had, I'd go double-or-nothing on 2010.