Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Clinch on Lannan’s last Audition for 2013

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The Nats clinching was the story of the night. Photo MASN screen grab via Nats Enquirer blog

The story of the day is obviously the Nats clinching the NL East title, cementing a fantastic turnaround season for the traditionally moribund franchise.  This is a great achievement for a team that very few pundits gave a shot at competing for a playoff spot, with even the most ardent fans thinking that 2012 would be a great stepping stone for 2013 and beyond.  The team surprised us all with fantastic pitching all year (the pitching staff is in the top 5 in most statistical categories league-wide) and breakout offense performances from Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper.  The team boasts a lineup where batters 1-7 all have 20+ homer seasons on their resumes and have to be seen as a tough out by any eventual playoff opponent.

We were lucky enough to be in the stadium last night to see the clinch.  I can honestly say I’ve never seen the crowd as pumped up and vocal at any other time that I’ve been present at the stadium; not at the 2009 home stadium opener, not at the first game in RFK, not during the Yankees series over the years.  The crowd regularly came to its feet to cheer the team in critical situations, was loud and vocal from the first pitch, and (thanks to the proliferance of smart phones) knew the moment that the Atlanta loss was final.  The moment came just after the Nats got the last out of the top of the 9th, making for a very odd scene where the team was about to lose a game but was giving high-fives in the dugout ahead of their last at bat.

John Lannan took the loss, going 5 relatively mediocre innings and surviving 9 baserunners (3 by walk) to give up 2 earned runs on 6 hits.  Lannan was all over the plate; 80 pitches but only 42 for strikes and was lucky not to have given up more runs.  He got three double plays in his 5 innings, including a nifty first-to-home play from Adam LaRoche to get out of a bases loaded jam in the 4th.  It was an inauspicious final appearance from Lannan, who finishes the season with a 4-1 record, a 4.13 ERA and a slightly-worse-than average 97 ERA+ in 6 starts (2 spot starts during the season and 4 starts in September replacing Stephen Strasburg in the rotation).  The loss is slightly unfair to Lannan; the real story on the night was the offense’s inability to touch Kyle Kendrick, whom they had battered just 4 days ago in Philadelphia, allowing him to go 7 shutout innings and only allow 4 hits.  The team was 0-8 with runners in scoring position, and had several crucial called-3rd strike K’s in situations that called for clutch hitting.

The team didn’t end up needing Craig Stammen‘s amazing stint; 2 innings, 6 strikeouts.  Stammen has really surprised me; I never thought he’d go from 4-A starter to shutdown middle reliever in just a season.  But he is an excellent weapon for this team and I hope he continues his dominance into the post-season.

Where does Lannan go from here?  Clearly he’s not in the Nationals plans; he’s arbitration eligible and due to get a raise from his 2012 salary of $5M, meaning he’s a non-tender candidate since the team would rather get a Mike Rizzo preferred arm (i.e., a power pitcher, a high K/9 guy instead of a finesse lefty like Lannan).  I could see him getting cut loose and finding a one or two year deal for an AAV of $4M/year (maybe even more; remember the Nats signed Jason Marquis to a 2yr $15M deal after a series of comparable seasons earlier in his career).  Lannan is an effective 4th or 5th starter on most teams and likely would excel in an NL pitcher’s park like Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco. There will absolutely be teams looking for guys like Lannan on the FA market and he’d likely be a great fit for a team looking for Starter help (off the top of my head; Kansas City, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland and Minnesota).

Washington isn’t going to get to 100 wins like I predicted in August (they’ve sputtered in September, going just 16-12 after two great months preceeding it), but 97 or 98 should be good enough for Best in Baseball and (hopefully) a #1 seed in the playoffs.  Go Nats!

8 Responses to 'Nats Clinch on Lannan’s last Audition for 2013'

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  1. It likely won’t happen, but I’d be very interested to see the results of a player going to arbitration after spending nearly the entire year at AAA. How could the arbitrator justify giving Lannan a raise? By keeping Lannan in AAA, the Nats also delayed his free agency eligibility by a year. As a result, they COULD keep him for two more years if they were so inclined.

    Anyway, last night showed why Lannan is a marginal MLB starter. It isn’t so much his pedestrian stuff, but the fact that he doesn’t go deep into games with it. In 2009, he made 33 starts and logged 206 IP. Last year in 33 starts he managed only 184. That’s a bit over a mere 5.5 innings per start. If his IP numbers were going up every year as he gains experience it would be different, but instead the opposite is happening.

    Lannan needs to be an “innings eater” to have any real value as a starter, and at least right now he isn’t even doing that.

    bdrube

    2 Oct 12 at 3:14 pm

  2. I can’t think of a single example to compare to frankly; a quick googling of arb cases that actually went to the arbitrator the last couple of years revealed only MLB players. That’s the problem though with arbitration; the player can’t get a decrease in pay right? The structure guarantees a certain percentage pay increase each year (believe 20%). Interesting question.

    Had his spot in the order not come up I think Lannan would have gotten at least a 6th inning; 80 pitches through 5. But you’re right; he’s always struggled to go deeper into games. Only throwing 50% strikes on the night doesn’t help.

    Todd Boss

    2 Oct 12 at 3:32 pm

  3. I know there’s no crying in baseball, but I do feel bad for Lannan. He was here through the bad years, and is told he’ll be a starter in spring training during the year the Nats are finally supposed to be a winner (“John’s my man”), but then gets relegated to the minors and will be getting the boot prior to the years the Nats should be a perennial contender. I don’t contest the reasoning behind letting him go, but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t sympathize with the guy.

    My greatest memory of John Lannan will always be my first memory of him: In awful 2007, in only his third MLB start, he faced Barry Bonds, who was sitting at 755 home runs and was one away from breaking the record. Lannan went straight after Bonds all night, and Bonds went 0-for-4 and had to wait another night (for Mike Bacsik, who gift-wrapped Bonds a meatball). Even Bonds credited Lannan’s gutsy start. I’ve been a fan of Lannan’s ever since, and I wish him all the success in the world, wherever he ends up.

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/lopresti/2007-08-07-lopresti-lannan_N.htm

    clark17

    2 Oct 12 at 5:14 pm

  4. I’m sure the Lannan situation is parts from Column A (unfair to a guy who “put in his time” as a starter for a 100+ loss team) and Column B (baseball is a results oriented business and he was clearly the 6th or 7th best of 5 starters in spring training, behind Detwiler and Wang). Perhaps Lannan’s own early success worked against him; by virtue of never burning all three options he was “able” to get demoted. Either way, I won’t feel THAT sorry for a guy who $5M on the year. If I got paid $5M to do something I didn’t like doing … i’d still friggin do it. Maybe we lose sight of the real money these guys make; but $5M is still a life-altering amount of money. If he were to put that entire $5M into a trust, and even if that trust “only” generated him a 6% return per year, that’s $300,000 annually for the rest of his life. To say nothing of the $2.7M he made the year prior, or the millions more he’s likely to make by virtue of still being about a league average starter AND being left-handed. He will absolutely have a major league job in 2013 and beyond, just not here.

    I’ve talked about the Bacsik situation before with others but never here; I think there’s a bit of revisionist history going on that’s unfair to Bacsik (probably started by comments made by Tim Redding). http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN200708070.shtml is the box score for that game; check out the play index for the Bonds homer. It was the SEVENTH pitch of that at-bat, a 3-2 count where Bonds had fouled off a 2 strike pitch. How does Bacsik “gift-wrap” the 7th pitch of an at-bat? I don’t buy it; I think Bacsik threw everything he had in that 7 pitch at-bat and Bonds just got the pitch he wanted and nailed it. If Bonds hits a 1-0 88mph fastball down the middle, maybe you say Bacsik gave up the homer on purpose so he could be famous for all time. But not at the end of a 7 pitch at bat when you’re a below replacement level pitcher to begin with going against perhaps the best or 2nd best left handed hitter of all time. I think it was just a case of talent beating lesser talent, nothing malicous.

    Todd Boss

    3 Oct 12 at 11:17 am

  5. To be fair to Bacsik, who was a great interview and hopefully is pursuing a career in media, he had a repetoire that consisted solely of meatballs. (to coin a Clark 17ism). I watched about 140-150 games a year during those bad ol’ days and Lannan & Livan were as good as it got.
    I’m just happy Lannan got his $5 mil this year, because he’s destined to years on the fringe. At least he’ll never have to pay for his beer in this town, we’re grateful for what he had. That start with Atlanta was possibly the most important start of the year for the Nats.

    Mark L

    3 Oct 12 at 5:33 pm

  6. Mike “Meatball” Bacsik. I’ll submit that to baseball-reference.com as his official nickname :-)

    There was a link today that was interesting; Lannan may be up for the 4th starter if we play Atlanta b/c they’re so bad against lefties. An interesting theory … since it would presumably come at the expense of Edwin Jackson. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2012/10/03/nationals-considering-john-lannan-for-rotation-if-they-face-the-braves/?wprss=rss_nationals-journal

    Todd Boss

    4 Oct 12 at 12:10 pm

  7. I saw that, too, about Lannan being No. 4 in the NLDS rotation if we’re facing the Braves. I agree wholeheartedly with Mark that Lannan’s start against Atlanta—two nights after the Nats blew a 9-0 lead to them—might have been the most crucial of the entire season (followed by another excellent start by Detwiler). It makes complete strategic sense to start Lannan over Jackson in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves, because left-handed pitching just kills them. HOWEVER… I am every bit as skeptical as Todd is that it will actually happen. You don’t stick with a guy all season and then dump him in the playoffs for a guy who’s been in AAA all year. As much sense as it makes on paper, it fails from a personnel standpoint. Jackson helped get them here, and he was lights out in the last game of the season. I think you’ve got to stick with him.

    clark17

    4 Oct 12 at 4:04 pm

  8. From my post a bit ago on the topic: http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=4635 Atlanta has an 86 wRC+ against lefties, meaning they (as a team) generate 14% fewer runs than the league, an incredibly significant amount. Maybe they load up on lefties in terms of bullpen help (aka, Duke instead of someone like Garcia, though again i’d be shocked if that happened).

    I’m getting ready to write a prediction piece … and I gotta say I’m really, really worried about this team facing Atlanta in the NLDS.

    Todd Boss

    4 Oct 12 at 4:39 pm

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