Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Is John Lannan slowly endangering his rotation spot?


Maybe its the 2011 haircut that is the source of Lannan’s mediocre start. Photo: Luis M. Alvarez/AP via

In his latest outing (5/16 against the Pirates), John Lannan worked around 11 base-runners in 6 and a third innings and only gave up 2 runs (one being inherited and allowed to score by Cole Kimball).  Four walks conspired to cause Lannan grief all afternoon, as well as only throwing 54 of 101 pitches for strikes.  However in the end, it was a quality start and kept the team in the game.

But are we seeing a gradual breakdown in Lannan overall?  After getting sent down in 2010, he had masterful numbers upon his return (6-3 record with a 3.42 era and 1.24 whip in his last 10 starts in 2010).  But he has not been able to carry these numbers into 2011.  Right now, his season long 2011 numbers are WORSE than his combined stats from last year, and despite only really having one egregiously bad outing (2ip, 6runs) his supporting stats are getting to be really concerning.  Here’s what concerns me specifically:

  • 1.615 whip.  That’s just way too many base-runners.
  • 26ks and 22bbs in 47 IP.

Perhaps I’m being nit-picky; his ERA (4.53) is almost exactly in line with his FIP and xFIP (4.50 and 4.56 respectively) meaning he’s pitching exactly as expected.  His BABIP is .323, meaning he’s been unlucky and is due for a regression of seeing-eye singles costing him hits and base-runners.  His game scores throughout the season have been relatively consistent (mostly 40s and 50s; his high on the season has been 54 and his 5/16 game was a 51).

But, more importantly, even if Lannan is the first in line to be replaced out of our current rotation, we don’t really have anyone in AAA quite yet deserving of the promotion.

The incumbent seemed to be Ross Detwiler, but he’s really struggling so far this year in AAA.  $8M man Yunesky Maya started slow and is coming around, but I want to see more Ks out of him.  Tom Milone‘s k/bb ratio is fantastic but he’s not on the 40-man (though we seem to have an empty spot right now, so perhaps that’s a non-issue).  Newly promoted Brad Meyers needs a few more AAA starts for seasoning but the evidence is there (especially after he dominated AA early in the season); his problem is lack of 40-man status as well.  Lastly Craig Stammen believe it or not may have the best case of them all; best whip, decent numbers, and outside of one bad start has been solid, but he seems to have the least “investment” of any of the starters in Syracuse and seems more likely destined for the bullpen than the MLB rotation.

Interesting decisions lay ahead, especially if Lannan has a couple bad outings in a row.  Remember; Lannan has minor league options (two of them if I read his transactions correctly).  It isn’t really a good statement to option a former opening day starter, but the team has to do what is best.

Written by Todd Boss

May 17th, 2011 at 7:34 pm

12 Responses to 'Is John Lannan slowly endangering his rotation spot?'

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  1. I’ve always had a probably irrational belief in Stammen, but it looks like any shots form now on are going to be in the bullpen.

    Money is one of the things that annoys me most with these matters. Oh, we paid him $xx M , so we have to give him a shot.

    Detwiler…well, is he the pitching version of an AAAA player?

    I would love to see Meyers pitch for Washington….in September.

    Basically I don’t think Lannan has done nearly enough to lose his spot. Sure, there are warning signs, but honestly his peripherals are showing he’s about average. Considering his experience in the majors and how much Riggleman loves that, I think he’ll stay as long as he pitches at this level.


    17 May 11 at 10:29 pm

  2. Uhmm, right now Stammen appears to take the lead. He now leads in strike outs at 38 after seven starts has a complete game and shutout to his credit. Plus is now sporting a 1.03 WHIP. Maya’s is still better at 1.01 but it does look like Maya, Stammen, and Meyers are making one heck of a rotation with Milone acting as the ubiquitous fifth starter and Detwiler once again the underachieving top prospect. And Bradley Peacock is looming …


    17 May 11 at 11:01 pm

  3. As of today (5/18) the Ntas have tied their record for the longest into a season without using a 6th starting pitcher. If nothing else, this is our best rotation in terms of stability.


    18 May 11 at 12:02 am

  4. I think that he is losing his spot. In addition to your good analysis, I just have the sense that Rizzo is not keen on him. I don’t get why Lannan walks so many; you would think that he would have mastered his command by now.

    As for the replacement, first and foremost, thank goodness we are past the point where we have to choose from Atilano, Martis, etc. I have always been a Stammen guy; even at the majors, his peripherals always outperformed his traditional stats, and I was hoping that he could hold on long enough to finally make a break through. But I think Yellow Slant is right, that ship has sailed. I predict Maya comes up by the ASG.


    18 May 11 at 9:14 am

  5. I played in a golf outing w/ a bunch of Nats players last summer and met Stammen briefly, and asked him if he knew that his fip/xfip were the 2nd best of any starter on the team (behind Strasburg, of course), and he said, “whats an xfip?” :-) As you say, for me Stammen has always been the guy who can pitch 6 shutout innings then give up 3 runs in an eyelash in the 7th to break your heart and lose the game. What do you do with that kinda pitcher?

    I have no “proof” of my assertion that bonus money matters … but it has to, right? Just as an investor sticks with a stock he bought high on, the team sticks with prospects they paid a hefty price for. Everything i’ve read about the draft, and the selection process once you get out of the 15th round or so tells me that teams think that anything they get in these later rounds is absolute “found gold” since they’re generally paying nothing in signing bonuses, and generally they’re just picking guys to fill out rosters in short-A and GCL.

    I think Meyers will get his shot in September, if for no other reason that Zimmermann will be shutdown (innings limit). Plus I’m assuming we’ll trade Marquis and bring up either Maya or Detwiler to replace him. Is Detwiler a 4-A player? I don’t think so; i think he’s a frail body type who has gotten unlucky with injuries and was called up too early by Bowden. He’s still really young in terms of his fellow players in AAA. Its early to say “bust” but this is a pretty important year for him…

    Todd Boss

    18 May 11 at 10:01 am

  6. By my observations, we’re also just one of 5 teams that has yet to use a 6th starter (Wash, Balt, Detroit, Seattle and Florida). Not that this means a ton (with all the rainouts lots of teams have given one spot start to a prospect to keep the first 5 on normal rest), but it is a significant improvement over where we were last year (we dumped Mock after one start, then Atilano got his first start 4/23, Chico got a spot start 5/8, JD Martin 5/29 and then Strasburg 6/8). That’s an awful lot of rotation turnover inside the first 2 months of a season…

    Not that stability == success, but it certainly helps.

    Todd Boss

    18 May 11 at 10:07 am

  7. Rizzo doesn’t like Lannan b/c Rizzo wants to replace the whole of this rotation with power arms, high K/9 guys. Its easier to churn out a bullpen but look at the arms he’s targeted lately: Gaudin, Coffey and Rodriguez are all 9.0 k/9 or more. Clippard, Storen and Kimball add to the makeup. Right now the Nats are 15th in the NL (where strikeouts are far easier to comeby) in team Ks.

    Gorzelanny, his one off-season starter acquisition, has the highest k/9 of any of our starters. The rest are mostly soft tossers. Livan, Lannan, Marquis. The question mark is Zimmermann; he SHOULD be higher k/9, and heretofore he has been.

    Anyway; the problem with Maya is that he doesn’t seem to be a big k/9 guy either. 12ks in 26 innings last fall, 36 in 45 AAA innings this year. I know Maya is a Rizzo acquisition .. but i’m guessing he is underperforming what Rizzo and the team thought he was going to get. Trust me; i love Maya and have written about him many times. I think he’s a crafty vet, a mechanic on the mound with a million pitches and he’s great to watch. His ceiling seems to be El Duque’s performances … but El Duque had a better fastball. We’ll see.

    Todd Boss

    18 May 11 at 10:16 am

  8. Todd – re: your comment on Stammen, ‘for me Stammen has always been the guy who can pitch 6 shutout innings then give up 3 runs in an eyelash in the 7th to break your heart and lose the game. What do you do with that kinda pitcher? ‘ IMO, you give him a lot of chances to figure it out. I’ll date myself here, but I grew up in northern NJ as a Yankee fan, and beginning in the ’80s and later, they ran out a litany of guys that were just like that, and they gave up on them. Tewksbury, Drabek, even Ted Lilly. Many of those guys went to places where they had time to learn to pitch, and became valuable starters. I see Stammen that way. As a general rule of thumb, I think pitchers can take a while to figure things out, while it is rare that a position player/hitter achieves success after a few years of struggling. I don’t know if that is right, it is just how I view things.

    Generally agree with your take on Rizzo, and while I don’t mind it as a general philosophy, I think it is a mistake to get so locked in that you ignore the value in other kinds of pitchers. Sonny Gray in the draft is a great example. Wicked stuff, but he’s 5’11” and I don’t think Rizzo would take him if he was free. I also think that Rizzo gets too caught up in creating trade value for his players. At some point, I wish he were a little more like the Braves’ approach of just putting his best players out there. I am ready to start winning.

    Two other minor points – I think that JZimm is embracing the ‘pitch to contact’ approach, which is why his Ks are down. Talent is still there, from what I can see and checking Pitch FX (velo, movement, etc). Didn’t Britton start off in the minors for Balt and get called up when Matusz got hurt (making him the 6th starter)?


    18 May 11 at 11:05 am

  9. I think Stammen may have gotten all the looks he’s going to get: 38 starts over two years. His ERA almost identical in 2009 and 2010, but he gave up a TON more hits in 2010, escalating his whip badly. Org player from here out, emergency call-up starter if we experience a rash of injuries. We’ll see. This is also the same team that has retained JD Martin all this time so perhaps i’m wrong.

    I sense that this franchise is pulled in two opposite directions by their circumstances. They can’t just start over from scratch and rebuild like the Royals have done, since they’ve spent the past few years building a new stadium and jacking ticket prices up by some 75% in some areas and have already experienced a major fan revolt in their season ticket sales because they’ve done so badly on the field. So they have to “try” to compete. Meanwhile though they’re not nearly spending enough money as they should be, given their market size, the wealth in this area, etc. Their payroll has been almost level the past three years. Why did this team buy Jayson Werth? To me, its because they knew they’d catch major hell if they dumped Dunn, Willingham, Guzman, and Taveras’s salaries (those 4 constituted nearly 50% of 2010’s team salary) and didn’t replace them with someone or anyone.

    Sonny Grey; agree with your sentiment … Grey suffers from the same problem Joe Montana did. Great college QB but didn’t have the right “size profile.” And we won’t take him (unless he’s available at #23, at which point i bet we do). But i think he’s a better arm than Alex Meyers is … but that’s probably who we’ll take since he’s more projectable and a bigger body.

    Britton may have been Matusz’ replacement/6th starter, but Matusz never made a start so technically Baltimore has 5 starters who have made all their starts… I did a bit of analysis looking at the number of starts made by staffs outside of their top 5 starters and SF in 2010 was amazing: only 12 of 162 starts made by someone outside their top 5. Nats by way of comparison: 54 of 162 made by guys outside the most frequently used 5. I may do this analysis for the whole league to see just how bad we were last year.

    Todd Boss

    18 May 11 at 11:40 am

  10. We can only hope Lannan is a goner, that can only make the team better! Maybe ship him back home to NY and the Mets not that Chris Young is done for the season!!! A bucket of practice balls would be nice in return.


    18 May 11 at 12:49 pm

  11. but it is a significant improvement over where we were last year (we dumped Mock after one start, then Atilano got his first start 4/23, Chico got a spot start 5/8, JD Martin 5/29

    Two now in AA. One back in AAA and the other again on the DL. All now off the 40-man roster. That’s progress.

    Shairon Martis appears to be starting to improve in AA. He, like Detwiler, is still very young and still might come around.


    18 May 11 at 1:52 pm

  12. Considering his experience in the majors and how much Riggleman loves that, I think he’ll stay as long as he pitches at this level.

    I think that’s the crux of it. Although there are raging arguments about who really controls the roster. At this point my feeling is that, at least this season, for the most part Riggleman controls it after the start of spring training. Lannan will have to do a lot more to convince Riggleman to take away his slot in the starting rotation. And if that happens that will directly affect Riggleman’s job security. That you can take to the bank.


    18 May 11 at 1:56 pm

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