Kyle Kendrick is generally underrated in the realm of back-end starters, but the Phillies still came into the offseason seeking rotation depth behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. That need grew even greater two weeks ago when the team used Vance Worley to acquire Ben Revere. With veteran back-end arms aplenty on the free agent market, Philadelphia managed to find a bargain in former National (and rival) John Lannan.
Lannan, as Phillies fans surely remember, started his big league career by breaking Chase Utley’s hand with a pitch back in 2007. The bad blood has lingered for years, and the Fightin’s have done a damn good job of exacting revenge over the years — Lannan has pitched to a 5.53 ERA (~5.80 FIP) against the Philadelphia compared to a 3.80 ERA (~4.30 FIP) against everyone else. The 28-year-old southpaw has responded by hitting more than twice as many Phillies (11) than players on any other team. Think of it as a light version of Pedro Martinez vs. the Yankees.
All of that has to be put aside now. The Phillies and Lannan agreed to a one-year contract over the weekend, a deal that will pay the veteran left-hander just $2.5 million guaranteed with a chance to double it through incentives. The Nationals non-tendered him last month after paying him $5 million to spend almost the entire season in Triple-A, with plenty of trade rumors along the way. Washington is pitching-rich and didn’t think committing that much money to sixth starter was a wise investment. Can’t say I disagree.
The Phillies, on the other hand, are getting reliability and relative consistency for their $2.5 million. Lannan has made at least 30 starts and thrown at least 180 innings in each of the last five seasons — between Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Lannan, the club now owns four of the 52 pitchers to make at least 125 big league starts over the last five seasons — and being able to take the ball every five days is a highly-valued trait among back-end arms. Now here are Lannan’s core peripherals from 2008-2011, his four full seasons as a big leaguer…
There’s not much deviation there, Lannan was the same guy year-after-year for four seasons. He didn’t miss many bats as an upper-80s sinker/curveball/changeup guy, though he made up for it with an above-average rate of ground balls. Washington’s infield defense was mostly poor during that time (-37 DRS and -23.4 UZR from 2008-2011), though he thrice managed a sub-4.00 ERA during those four years. The lone exception was 2009, when he was done in by a career-worst .319 BABIP (.287 career).
A total of nine non-Lannan starting pitchers have signed one-year contracts this offseason, a list that includes $5.5 million for Scott Baker (missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery), $3 million for Jason Marquis (below replacement level twice in the last three years), and $4 million for Mike Pelfrey (only three starts due to Tommy John surgery in 2012). Lannan signed for less than eight of those nine starters, and his only real crime was spending most of the season in Triple-A because his team had too many good starters.
Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley has already suggested using Freddy Galvis over Michael Young at third base during Lannan’s starts given his ground ball tendencies, but Jimmy Rollins and whatever is left of Utley’s knees will be better than what the left-hander enjoyed during the bulk of his time with the Nationals. It’s a good fit for both the team and the player. The Phillies will pay their three aces a combined $64.5 million next season, but landing a relatively consistent fourth starter who will take the ball every five days without question for a paltry $2.5 million guarantee is the kind of move every team should be making.