Phillies Find Back-End Bargain In John Lannan

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…

K% BB% GB% WAR RA9 wins
2008 15.0% 9.2% 54.2% 1.2 2.7
2009 10.2% 7.8% 51.9% 1.4 3.0
2010 11.0% 7.6% 51.5% 1.2 0.6
2011 13.1% 9.4% 54.1% 1.3 1.9
Total 12.3% 8.5% 52.9% 5.1 8.2

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.

Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Lannan is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. He is one of just 27 pitchers who threw 700+ IP and Sub 4 ERA from 2008-2011. He is underrated by FIP stats since they don’t take into account his unique skills. Wouldn’t surprise me if he is a 2 WAR pitcher this year again after he combined for almost 6 WAR in 08-09.

9 years ago
Reply to  Hogan

He is definitely a bargain for Phillies but I don’t get this signing from John’s perspective. He is trying to build value over next season so he can get a better one-year or a multi-year offer next off-season. Given his numbers in CBP, I am a bit worried for him. Then again he has good numbers against Braves and Mets. He has also pitched very well in Nationals Park. Should be a very interesting season for him. I just hope he does not no-hit Nationals to avenge the demotion last season.

9 years ago
Reply to  FS54

easy from his perspective.. its called “employment”. Alot of teams are in “settle down” mode after the winter meetings, and trades and such that happened and during. If you can hook up with a club, do it.

9 years ago
Reply to  FS54

I mean he’d just spent most of the season in AAA. Rather than sign a 2/8 type deal maybe he figures he’s going to take this single year deal (which includes incentives up to an additional 2.5m) and try to have one great season to set himself up for a decent 3-4 year deal that’ll cover the last part of his “prime”.

Different Colin
9 years ago
Reply to  FS54

Eh. He’s from Long Island, went to school at Sienna, and got married recently. Maybe proximity triumphed over other similarly mediocre offers. And perhaps he’s pretty certain that he can meet his incentives? And maybe the Phillies were willing to promise not to extend arbitration at the end of the season?

9 years ago
Reply to  FS54

Not all agree with me, but i will go to my grave believing that the Nats would have gotten more out of Lannan than they got from Edwin Jackson last year and for far less money.

I think he will make us pay for letting him go.

It is a sad day for smart Nats fans!