Phillies Nation Player Review: John Lannan – Phillies Nation
2013 Player Reviews

Phillies Nation Player Review: John Lannan

John Lannan is likely to be non-tendered by the Phillies after an injury plagued season (Photo: AP).

John Lannan is likely to be non-tendered by the Phillies after an injury plagued season (Photo: AP).

After five-plus seasons of watching John Lannan pitch against their team a handful of times each year, Phillies fans were right to be wary when Ruben Amaro inked the soft-tossing lefty last December to a one-year deal worth at least $2.5 million.  At his best, Lannan is a mediocre pitcher and the Phillies faithful had essentially seen it firsthand; Lannan had made 19 career starts against the Phils, still his most against any team.

The 29-year-old was signed to provide stability as the fifth starter in a rotation that looked pretty good at the top.  After all, the southpaw had racked up at least 180 innings in five straight seasons — majors and minors — to the tune of a 4.01 ERA for the Nationals.  Not too bad on the surface, right?  But like so many things these past two seasons, the Lannan addition went south quick for the Phillies.

Despite the durability he showed throughout his career, Lannan was only able to make 14 starts in 2013 due to injury, which amounted to 74.1 innings.  To put that in perspective, Lannan’s deal included another $2.5 million dollars in incentives that were dependent on his inning total… and his first bonuses would have come at 150 innings and/or 31 starts.

Lannan looked good his first two starts of the season (13 innings, 4 ER), but after he was rocked in his third outing he complained of pain in his left knee and ended up on the disabled list for two months with a quad issue.   He returned in June and was effective for about nine starts (53.1 innings, 21 ER) before his leg issue flared up again and he was shut down in August.  He has since had surgery on his left knee.

When he was actually on the mound this season, Lannan resembled the pitcher he has been throughout his career.  He is a four-pitch finesse pitcher who doesn’t miss bats and induces a ton of ground balls (52.9 percent for his career), but also needs almost everything to go right to be even slightly above average.  If his command is off, he’s going to get rocked.  If he is at all unlucky, he is going to get rocked.  And as we saw, if he is having health issues, he is going to get rocked; Lannan finished 2013 with a career-worst ERA of 5.33.

At 29, Lannan is what he is.  His bread-and-butter ground ball rate (52.4 percent) was close to his career average and, believe it or not, his line drive rate actually decreased this year despite his spike in ERA.  Batters hit .296 against him with a BABIP of .313 – notably above his career number – which implies that Lannan was a bit unlucky, possibly explaining the ERA bump.  His walk rate (8.1 percent) and his abysmal strikeout rate (11.5 percent) were consistent with his career numbers and his poor WHIP of 1.52 was only slight above his career mark of 1.43, again probably due to batters hitting .296 against him.  He was the owner of a 4.37 FIP (bad) and 4.71 xFIP (really bad).

These numbers only help to explain what we already know.  While serviceable, Lannan is not really a pitcher you want eating innings for your team if it plans on contending… especially if your starting rotation is supposed to be your strength, which is precisely why the Nationals released him after 2012.  The Phillies have Lannan under team control for 2014, but as Todd Zolecki already pointed out, they’re likely to non-tender the southpaw this winter.  If they choose to stick with Lannan, he will go through the arbitration process and likely make more than the $2.5 million he made this year.

Grade: D-.  In theory, the thinking behind the Lannan signing made sense.  But as the Phillies front office refuses to admit, it’s not 2011 anymore.  This team needed impact additions to be competitive in 2013 and there is no scenario where Lannan and his middling talent could have provided that type of boost.  Looking at his game log, an optimist could say that Lannan’s ERA ballooned because of poor outings that resulted from injury issues.  Maybe that is true, and that would certainly be one argument for bringing him back (as well as the only reason he didn’t get an F).  But to me, when the ceiling is mediocrity, I would rather take my chances on Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin or whoever else is trending in AAA for a tenth of the price.  This team has too many holes to fill to waste money on band-aids.



  1. Bart Shart

    October 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    John Lannan stunk last year. It was obvious that he lost his luster and was out of shape. Too bad for him. He retires a millionaire nevertheless.

    • schmenkman

      October 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      I don’t know that Lannan ever had any luster, although he was decent against everyone but the Phillies (before this year): 39-39, 3.79, vs. 3-13, 5.49. But yeah, he’s cobbled together a major league career, and will probably continue to find employment for a couple more years, anyway.

  2. Bart Shart

    October 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    He also qualifies for a nice MLB pension. Not bad for a pitcher with a losing record and seven years of MLB experience.

  3. George

    October 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Pettibone or Martin would make about one-fifth of what Lannan made this year, not one-tenth. If you’re going to trash someone or trash a team’s decision to add that someone, at least you can be honest about instead of trying to make things worse than reality.

    You state that the thinking behind the signing made sense, but then proceed to tear apart that thinking with your comment about it no longer being 2011. Why not just say what you mean: that the thinking was stupid.

    There were two things that occurred which made the Lannan addition a bad one, and neither was under the control of management. One, the rest of the Phils’ rotation was supposed to be Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and a seemingly much improved Kendrick. If Halladay hadn’t been horrible and injured there was no need for any “impact additions” to the rotation. The other factor was that Lannan got injured. If anyone could have predicted that, they should apply to replace God.

    • Alex Lee

      October 12, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      George – Lannan will make significantly more than $2.5 million next year via arbitration if the Phils keep him, which is why they won’t. I was CLEARLY talking about whether or not to bring him back for NEXT YEAR, not this year as you state. It was very, very clear. So please, stop it.

      I didn’t read anything in the other two paragraphs that you wrote because the first one was so off base.

      • schmenkman

        October 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm

      • George

        October 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm

        Lannan would have to be paid $4.8 Million, or nearly DOUBLE what he got this season, to be getting ten times what Martin or Pettibone would get, or if Pettibone remains at minimum pay. And that’s if the CBA has no language giving out a raise to first time players. No arbitrator in his right mind will give Lannan that in view of his injury and consequent lack of decent stats this year. I’m not off base one speck, whereas you are still exaggerating by quite a bit.. Also, you didn’t read my statement very well, because yoyu missed the part where I said “this year.” If Lannan does get a raise, you’d still be way too high on that “ten times” crap.

        I’ll grant maybe seven times, but not ten, which is probably a figure you arrived at so you can be critical if Lannan is re-signed. When it comes to Phil’s management, you’re hyper-critical anyway, and will probably rail against any fifth starter they happen to sign, thinking a fifth sarter should be some kind of an ace.

      • hk

        October 13, 2013 at 8:06 am

        FWIW, the Phils were prepared to pay Lannan up to $5M this year. If he had not gotten injured and stayed in the rotation for the full season, they would have paid him somewhere between $4M and $5M. I barely follow the arbitration process because the Phils rarely if ever get to actual hearings, so I pose these questions to Alex or schmenkman or anyone else who is in the know:

        1. Are prior year contracts factors in the arbitration process?
        2. If so and if the Phils offer arbitration to Lannan, do they run the risk that they he submits (and gets) a price of ~$5M on the basis that (a) the team was willing to pay him as much as $5M last year if he had been healthy and (b) the team wants him back – otherwise, they would not have offered arbitration – to be part of the starting rotation?

      • schmenkman

        October 13, 2013 at 5:52 pm

        @hk, good questions, and I don’t know the answers, but Matt Swartz has tended to be fairly accurate in his arbitration predictions, and if he is saying only $3 M, that would indicate to me that what Lannan _could_ have earned isn’t as important as what he actually earned. Again, just surmising and trusting Matt’s judgement there.

      • Alex Lee

        October 14, 2013 at 10:21 am

        George, I’m not “hypercritical” of Phils management, I’m hypercritical of poor management which is all we’ve seen in the last few years around here. If they make a couple of shrewd moves this offseason, I’ll be the first to point it out… I promise. I haven’t gotten a chance to write about it, but I think splashing into the int’l market for MAG was a worthwhile risk and represents a step forward. They need to get creative like that to get out of this hole they’ve dug themselves into.

        My point was that there are better places to spend their money than on a fifth starter with Lannan’s ceiling. Like I said, I’d rather just let the AAAA guys battle it out for that job for a fraction of the price – be it 1/5, 1/7 or 1/10. This team has a lot of work to do and I don’t think guys like John Lannan are the answer.

        As for arbitration, Matt Swartz is the man to go to there as @schmenkman said.

      • George

        October 15, 2013 at 9:30 am

        Alex, Why should I stop it? Exaggerating Lannans potential salary is little more than you setting up a straw man to knock over.

        You are supposed to do better than putting in overestimations no matter what your arguments are trying to prove. Just as you say you’re only complaining about bad management, I reserve the right to complain about bad, innacurate writing. Maybe I’ve been too grating in my approach, but that’s just the kind of mood that back-handed reporting puts me in.

      • Alex Lee

        October 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

        @George, I wasn’t exaggerating Lannan’s potential 2014 salary intentionally despite what you might think. Considering his base salary in 2013 and the escalators in his contract had he stayed healthy, I expect him to make $4-5 million in arbitration in 2014 if the Phils hang onto him (which I don’t expect them to) – which is about 10 times more than the AAAA guys will make.

        If you think my math and/or arbitration knowledge are inaccurate — as Swartz’s model apparently does based on his $3mm estimate — you should by all means question them… but don’t accuse me of “backhanded reporting” as you put it because that is just ridiculous. In fact, considering you already said “I’ll grant maybe seven times, but not ten” after you originally said five… it would seem if anyone is juking the stats, it’s you my man. Anyway, thanks for commenting as always and feel free to attempt to tear holes in my Cliff Lee player review going up later today.

    • Andrew

      October 14, 2013 at 11:44 am

      “If Halladay hadn’t been horrible and injured…”

      And of course, 2012 gave us absolutely no indication that Halliday would be horrible and injured in 2013. That just happened out of nowhere.

  4. Ken Bland

    October 13, 2013 at 11:08 am

    performance bonuses: $0.2M each for 150, 160, 170, 180, 190 innings. Max earnings = 800,000 potential.

    $0.25M each for 200, 210 IP. max earnings potential = 500,000

    $0.25M each for 31, 32, 33, 34 games started max earnings potential = 1 million

    base + max incentive achievement = 2.3 million guarantee plus= a maximum contract of 4.8 million.

    Even the highest IP mark wouldn’t have been too far removed from his prior work (career high of 206 innings. So it seems fair to say the Phils were prepared to pay him about 4-4.5 mil for what based on his past with poor clubs might have translated to a little less than the first half Kendrick turned in, which would have been maybe even better than pretty good for a 5 starter.

    If it did come to arbitration, I don’t think his people are out of line for asking for 3.5-3.7 mil. 2013 is easy to excuse because of the injury deal. Also easy to overlook from their view is he’s thrown a lot of meaningless, non contending innings.

    Will it come to arbitration? You need starter depth, but you probably can find at least his equal off the market if you feel like you need starter depth as January rolls around. He’s not a totally flawed starter, and while he’s not good enough to be a LOOGY, his ground ball tendency makes him a pretty decent middle relief candidate for even a good, playoff type team. That assumes an ability to adjust to a frequent role. If that’s what the market reduces him to, he might be a fairly exciting candidate. But nobody will pay 3 mil plus for that. So until he’s forced into that, he might as well keep shooting for a starter’s gig, which, if he’s reduced to free agency, should pay 3-4 mil as a 5. He’d probably get it, but it wouldn’t be totally shocking to see the market reduce him as early as this year to the reliever’s role suggested.

  5. Ken Bland

    October 14, 2013 at 10:25 am

    To apply some perspective to pretty average (debatable) John Lanann’s future, be it by arb, or free agency, here’s a look back at the free agent landscape of the off season between 1985 and 1986. Free agency was 10 years old at that time. Arbitration had started about the same time.

    “The owners are getting smarter, no question about that,“ insisted a prominent player agent who asked not to be identified. “Player salaries are going to begin dropping.“

    I carried this prediction to Bud Selig, the friendly president of the Milwaukee Brewers. Replied Selig: “I`ll believe it when I see it.“

    Then to Avron Fogelman, co-owner of the world champion Kansas City Royals. Observed Fogelman: “We`ve been shooting ourselves in the foot.“

    The average 1985 salary for the 650 major leaguers (25 per club) was $371,900. The year before, it was $329,408; the year before that $289,194.

    “Salaries have almost quadrupled since 1978,“ conceded Don Fehr, the acting executive director of the Players Association. Advised of the prediction that salaries may tumble, Fehr indicated that, if necessary, the union would resort to legal action.

    “If salaries go down,“ he warned, “that would suggest the possibility of collusion. The owners are coming off another record season, record attendance, record broadcast revenues. It`s definitely too early to tell. But there seems to be very little activity.“

    “The free-agent market is glutted,“ said Jerry Reinsdorf, co-owner of the White Sox.

    Like Selig, Reinsdorf doesn`t believe salaries will fall. “I don`t see them going down. But the escalation could be stopping or slowing down.“

    Reinsdorf also said the current free agents will not be a “fair test“ of the market because “it`s not a good crop.“


    The truly amazing thing is that the general tone of apprehension about free agency was largely predictable when it started in the mid 70’s. Maybe even surprising that this tone was expressed at a still pre exploded bubble in the winter of 1985. Yet, here we are, nearly 30 years later, off some unimaginable contracts the last 2-3 winters. The free agent crop was considered weak then, it is now. How else are you gonna keep agents heads screwed to their necks without at least trying to downplay the market?

    I canniot imagine ANYONE, back in 1985 thinking baseball would be where it is today on a number of fronts that enable the salaries. I’m sure there are those that might have looked ahead with what’s wound up reasonable accuracy, but hell if I can name any of them. What’s even more unthinkable is despite the number of pundits now a way, way higher, it’s damn near impossible to imagine anyone having an even fractionally accurate guess as to what will be some 30 years from now.

    Quotes are from the Chicago Trib, November, ’86, Jerome Holtzman

  6. Ken Bland

    October 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Alex Lee,

    2 things, first, unimportantly, I was disappointed you saw the need to defend yourself against a charge of hypercritical of Phils management. so few “good” moves the last 2 years in particular translates to that lack of enthusiasm, or hyper critical as pretty perceptive. The fraction lesson, whatever. Imagine the voice tone on whatever for full effect.

    Of a little greater significance, endorsing the MLBTR thread by posted by S’man…I dunno about that one. Personally, I think he made a little faux pas attaching the linjk he did. It was a good choice relevance wise, to the Phils, but Dierkes (who I like) went a little overboard with praise for Matt’s work with his quick, 1 line summary praise of it..

    Tim had the thoroughness to link Matt’s explanation of the system he’s come up with, and as he details, he’s not perfected it. I’m not questioning that it’s not good, but it ain’t no biblical.

    It seems like a pretty cool tool, but implications that it can be trusted highly (my verbiage), or at least my inference of that seems a little overdone.

    Arbitration, by it’s very word formation is so freaking arbitrary. Matt might hit a good percentage, but if you follow the bouncing arb process, it looks to me like people oughta be prepared for imperfections in Matt’s model. Anybody takes that as a criticism of it is a moron.

    • Alex Lee

      October 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      As for your first point Ken, you’re right there is no real need to defend myself… but sometimes I just can’t help it!

      As for the MLBTR thing, I’m sure Swartz’s model has its imperfections but I’m also fairly sure that it is better at estimating arbitration salaries than I am at guessing them, which is mainly why I endorsed it… and I suppose the fact that I have ties to MLBTR and Hoops Rumors had a little something to do with it too ;-).

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