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May 24, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

Is John Lannan getting close to the end of the line?

According to traditional statistics, John Lannan‘s career has been on a downward spiral the last two seasons. Here are his ERAs for the 2008–11:

3.91 / 3.88 / 4.65 / 5.03

and his ERA+:

110 / 109 / 87 / 76.

Opponents’ batting average against him have increased:

.252 / .266 /.302 / .303

as have opponents’ OPS against him:

.728 / .750 / .799 / .825.

The share of quality starts has declined:

68% / 58% / 48% / 40%.

Baseball-reference.com’s wins-above-replacement statistic (rWAR), which is based on runs allowed with an adjustment for team defense, shows Lannan declining from an above average pitcher to one who is below replacement:

3.0 / 2.8 / 0.1 / –0.3.

On the other hand, another approach to evaluating pitchers, which is championed by fangraphs.com, emphasizes fielding independent statistics. Lannan’s fielder independent pitching (FIP) doesn’t show much trend:

4.79 / 4.70 / 4.47 / 4.38.

The resulting wins-above-replacement statistic (fWAR) doesn’t show a decline, but instead shows a pitcher who’s been persistently mediocore:

1.3 / 1.5 / 1.2 / 0.3.

The difference between the two sets of statistics largely reflects opponents’ batting average on balls in play, which is counted in rWAR, but is excluded (because it is not independent of fielding) from fWAR. For Lannan, opponents’ batting average on balls in play has steadily increased:

.266 / .272 / .319 / .331.

In his six starts since April 25, Lannan has allowed 22 runs in 32-2/3 innings. If his performance doesn’t improve over his next few starts, we could very well see him being sent back to Syracuse or Harrisburg.

Like many Nats fans, I have a soft spot for John. He was one of the Nats’ few bright spots during those dreary 2008-09 seasons. While he wasn’t what you’d really like as your team’s number one starter, he usually did pitch well enough to keep the team in the game—sort of like Liván does now. He and Zim are about the only remaining links to those teams, and it would be sad to see John go. I wish him well.

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