Trade Values: John Lannan

Yesterday the Washington Nationals signed right handed pitcher Edwin Jackson to a one year deal for $10 M. The move gives Washington a strong rotation, with Jackson joining Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez. Among the news of Jackson’s signing was a rumor that the Nationals were aggressively looking to deal left handed starter John Lannan, who just lost an arbitration case to the Nationals and will be paid $5 M this year.

Lannan is coming off a year with a 3.70 ERA in 184.2 innings. He’s probably due for some regression with an xFIP of 4.24. Lannan would probably be appealing to Pirates fans for three reasons:

1. He’s got decent career numbers, with a 4.00 ERA, and a good track record of being an innings eater.

2. He’s left handed.

3. He has a career 52.8% ground ball ratio.

Let’s compare Lannan over the last three years to two other left handed pitchers with good ground ball ratios:

Lannan: 4.03 ERA, 4.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 534.1 IP

Player A: 4.43 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 542.1 IP

Player B: 4.79 ERA, 4.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 448.2 IP

Lannan has the best ERA of the three over the last three years, however he’s got the worst strikeout and walk ratios. Player A is Paul Maholm. Player B is Zach Duke.

Somehow Lannan has managed to put up strong numbers throughout his career, despite being very similar to these two former Pirates left handers. He doesn’t really have better stuff than Duke or Maholm, with an average fastball of 89.6 MPH in 2011. He’s not favored by his home park, with a career 3.80 ERA at home, compared to a 4.20 ERA on the road. Compare that to Maholm, who really benefitted from PNC Park, putting up a 3.80 ERA at home and a 5.03 ERA on the road.

Looking at the advanced stats, Lannan should be the worst pitcher of the three. Lannan’s xFIP over the last three years is worse than Maholm, and slightly worse than Duke. A big part of that is due to Lannan’s 2009 season, as his 2010 and 2011 campaigns weren’t horrible. But in his career he has a 4.45 xFIP, compared to a 4.22 for Maholm and a 4.34 for Duke.

Maholm has only out-performed his xFIP twice in his career. That came in the 2008 and 2011 seasons. Three times if you count his limited playing time in 2005. Duke out-performed his xFIP in his half-season in 2005, and again in 2009. Lannan has four full seasons in the majors, and has out-performed his xFIP three out of four times, and once more in 2007 when he pitched 34.2 innings.

The advanced metrics suggest Lannan should be the worst of the three, but Lannan is the only one who is out-performing the advanced metrics on a consistent basis. Lannan looks similar to Duke and Maholm, but the results have been much different. You can’t chalk it up to Duke and Maholm playing for a bad team, because Lannan played for a bad team. You can’t chalk it up to ballpark effects like Maholm, because Lannan has been good on the road.

Going back to the original topic, the Nationals are apparently trying to unload Lannan. PNC Park is built for left handers, and left handers with strong ground ball ratios are a perfect fit. Over the past three years only three left handed starters have put up a better ground ball ratio than Lannan: Ricky Romero, Jaime Garcia, and Brett Anderson. Those three also benefit from strong strikeout numbers, which is why Lannan can’t be fully compared to them. However, if you’re looking for a left hander with a high ground ball ratio, Lannan is a prime option.

So what is Lannan’s trade value?

YEAR SALARY WAR VALUE
2012 $5.0 1.3 $1.7
2013 $6.0 1.3 $0.7
TOTAL $11.0 2.6 $2.4

Explanation: Lannan has an average of a 1.3 WAR over the last three years, including a 1.3 WAR in 2011. His salary for 2012 will be $5 M, and I estimated $6 M for his final year of arbitration in 2012. He might be more valuable in PNC Park, which could drive his WAR up. If his value stays the same, he probably wouldn’t be worth an offer of arbitration in 2013, unless he really benefits from PNC Park.

What He’s Worth: A $2.4 M trade value is the equivalent of a young Grade C pitching prospect. Or the Pirates could try to deal a reliever. I talked the other day about the crowded bullpen situation. They could swap someone like Daniel McCutchen for Lannan. Washington gets their salary relief, and the Pirates don’t really miss McCutchen. The Nationals, however, are looking for a center fielder. I wouldn’t give up Alex Presley unless prospects were coming with Lannan, but Gorkys Hernandez would be a good candidate. He hasn’t proven himself with the bat, but he’s arguably the best defensive outfielder in the Pirates’ system, which could have value in Washington’s spacious outfield.

Analysis: Lannan is a bit of an enigma. If you just look at the results, he hasn’t been much worse than Edwin Jackson the past few years. Jackson has a 3.96 ERA in that span, while Lannan has a 4.03 ERA, including a better ERA than Jackson in 2011. I prefer looking at how a pitcher got to that ERA, rather than just focusing on the ERA. Looking at the secondary numbers, I’d take Jackson any day. Lannan looks like a risk with his secondary numbers. He doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, he doesn’t have a great walk rate, and his xFIP suggests he should be closer to a 4.45 ERA. But that’s where Lannan becomes a mystery.

For whatever reason he constantly out-performs the expectations. Three out of the last four years he has put up an ERA of 3.91 or better, making 31 or more starts per year. The exception was in 2010, and he dealt with elbow inflammation that year, which might have played a part in his 4.65 ERA over 25 starts. The advanced numbers suggest that Lannan is worse than Duke and Maholm, but the actual results show that he’s been considerably better. If Lannan repeats his 2011 season in Pittsburgh, which should be easier considering PNC’s favorable layout for left handers, then he’d be a huge addition to the pitching staff. Considering that Washington doesn’t seem to be looking for much more than salary relief, and considering that the Pirates can afford to take on salary, it seems like a great match.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • john.alcorn

    No reason to give up anything for this guy, Lincoln is a better option right now. For that matter Lincoln is a better option than Correia.

    • Lee Young

      John……couldn’t agree more. Living near Hbg, Pa, I got to watch the Nats on TV a lot, Lannan was ALWAYS in trouble. I never could figure out how he did it.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

        yeah, but he DID it…  thats kinda sayin’ something.

  • Anonymous

    I wouldnt even consider trading anything but a bullpen arm for this guy, no way I would even think about giving up Presley or Hernandez for Lannan.

  • Thom Kay

    I live in DC and have watched Lannan pitch a few times, and I like him. Granted, I saw his one and only shutout live, but in general, I think he’s pretty solid.  He does get into trouble a good bit because of walks and singles, but maintains a 72% LOB%, on the high end of the league average. Hard to call him a true innings eater, since he only averages around 6 innings per outing, but he generally does a good job of pitching every five days, giving a solid start, and keeping his team in the game. 

    If his numbers improve because of PNC, and all we’d give up is someone like Hernandez, this could be a real benefit. 

    I’d love to trust Lincoln, but he just hasn’t produced. Keep in mind that Lincoln is only 8 months younger than Lannan. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MUDBM56MQKYJOJI7RN3SEFZ5YA Tom

    Just give Lincoln a legit shot
     

  • Anonymous

    I think the Nats would want more of a sure thing than Gorkys for centerfield.  Rizzo appreciates defense but the team wants to contend and does not want a question mark in center.  I would definitely trade Gorkys for Lannan.

    If they are looking ahead and think that Jason Werth can handle center this year they could go for Gorkys with hopes he works out this year but expecting him to be ok in 2013 when Morse most likely moves to first with Harper and Werth in outfield.

  • Anonymous

    On one hand, the Pirates have this type of pitcher (Lannan) coming out their ears, the only pitcher I want to see them get that they don’t have is a dominate one and that guy will cost more than 10mil.
    On the other hand, I would gladly give up  guys like Meek or Resop for him, he would be good depth for a starting pitching staff that needs it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3G6S3MLR7RKSHPBY62TA5KKR4A michael

    No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan

  • Anonymous

    Lannan has some very strong credentials and would merit more that Daniel McCutchen.  But, I agree that it is time to start using the LHSP’s we have backed up at AAA or cut them loose – Owens, Locke, Wilson, and Tony Watson was an excellent SP before being converted to a reliever at AA. 

    On another front, the Indians, who have been looking for a 1B, signed Casey Kotchman.  Can we now try to make a push to get their leftovers?  The guy they are trying to replace is Matt LaPorta, who has never lived down the fact that he was the key player from Milwaukee in the trade that sent CC Sabathia off to the Brewers.  He is an excellent defensive player who had offensive promise but has not quite turned the corner in the Show.  A .980 OPS at AA for the Brewers in 2008, and a .918 OPS hitter for Cleveland at AAA before coming to the majors in 2009.  He did fairly well for Cleveland in 2009 with some pop in the bat, but his offensive stats for 2010 and 2011 were not very good.  This guy just turned 27 and should be very reasonably priced at the present time.  Lord knows he and Cleveland need some time away from one another!   He’s a RH hitter who hits RHP better than LHP.       

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

      who has said Laporta is excellent defensively?

  • Brian Bernard

    Why spend 5 mil on Lannon when putting Owens or Wilson would be better served getting their ears wet. NO to Lannon unless he can sing like Lennon, then maybe.

    • Anonymous

      Then after the games he starts, he can then have a concert after the game with fireworks…uhhh Bob Nutting’s Wet dream.

  • James S

    Amen, Michael.
    No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan No Lannan

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vince-Riedy/100002800992567 Vince Riedy

    Lannan has been known to be available before the Jackson signing and I suggested this site explore his trade value. If he can be got as cheap as the article suggests he’d immediately be the number two starter on the staff. The eyes test of Lannan shows he is pitcher of decent talent and great movement on his pitches. The Pirates MUST pursue him!!!

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    He’d be a good pickup.  Living in Washington I’ve seen him a lot.  He’s a hard luck guy, and reminds me somewhat of Kip Wells, a nibbler.  Is he an upgrade over any of the current slated starters is where I’d make the call.  Morton, Bedard and McDonald I’d say are all clearly better.  Karstens probably slightly better, just from a competitive standpoint.  That just leaves Correia.  But, the Pirates need the depth.  If you can get him for one of the lesser bullpen guys, or someone like Gorkys, do it.

  • Anonymous

    If he comes VERY cheap then get him. Taking on his 5mil salary dump means would should get him for a song. If that song is Gorkys then oh well make the swap!!! Gorkys will never be more then a 4th outfielder because of his bat. Lannan would be a decnt 5th starter and would provide some depth for WHEN Bedard gets injured….