Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lannan baffled by struggles

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
John Lannan's ERA skyrocketed to 5.45 after tonight's shoddy start.
DETROIT -- If you're frustrated by John Lannan's performances these days, you should know that the left-hander is right there with you. Even more so.

This season is driving Lannan crazy. He'll look terrible one night on the mound, then look great several starts in a row. He'll deal with a sore elbow for a week, then rebound to throw his best outing in months, only to string together the worst back-to-back starts of his career.

"Of course it's frustrating," he said tonight after getting shelled by the Tigers for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. "But I'm not going to stop. I'm not just going to roll over. It's just a part of my career where I'm getting knocked down and things aren't going my way. I'm not making pitches. I've got to battle through it. That's all I can do."

So what's the problem? Plain and simple, Lannan can't get his sinker to sink. It's his bread-and-butter pitch, the one that allows him to get away with stuff that doesn't reach 90 mph but has so much downward movement that hitters have no choice but to rap the ball into the ground and mutter all the way down the first-base line.

Without that pitch, Lannan is nothing, as we found out tonight at Comerica Park.

"I tried to call some sinkers, and basically they didn't do anything," catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "They come in like a four-seam."

The first inclination is to wonder whether Lannan's elbow is acting up again. When the arm wasn't right earlier this year, it led to plenty of pitches up in the zone.

The left-hander insists that's not the case right now.

"Physically, I feel fine," he said. "My arm feels fine."

So maybe a simple mechanical tweak can fix this problem. Perhaps his arm slot is off a hair, or he's not getting the proper "tilt" on his pitches.

Could that be it?

"No, I don't think it's that," Lannan said. "It's not something I can pinpoint as far as mechanics go."

Do you understand now why Lannan is so frustrated? It's one thing to struggle but know exactly why it's happening. It's quite another to have no clue what the problem is.

Whatever the reason, Lannan simply hasn't been the pitcher this season he was the previous two. In 64 combined starts from 2008-09, he posted a 3.89 ERA and allowed 1.34 runners to reach base per inning. In 13 starts this year, his ERA is a hefty 5.45, and his WHIP is a gargantuan 1.83.

"He's been a very steady pitcher here for a couple years," manager Jim Riggleman said. "I know he's searching. Steve McCatty's searching. All we can do is put him out there and hope that the style of pitcher that he is starts showing up again. He's a very good major-league pitcher, but it's been rough for him this year. He's being tested."

There will surely be those who believe Lannan never was a quality big-league pitcher to begin with, that he was lucky to get through the last two seasons without suffering more damage. But across the organization, everyone believes this guy can be successful at this level. They point to his past success, not to mention some very effective starts he's had this season (over a four-start span from May 18-June 2, he had a 2.19 ERA, never allowing more than two earned runs in any outing).

But facts are facts, and Lannan right now is not a very effective big leaguer. The Nationals will keep giving him chances, because there isn't a real viable alternative waiting in the wings at the moment. But eventually, this franchise is going to have several healthy veteran starters, starters with longer track records than Lannan.

At some point, he's going to have to prove he deserves to retain his spot.

"He's already proved that he's a great pitcher," Rodriguez said. "He had a great year last year and he started the season very well this year. But right now, he's struggling a little. That's part of the game. That's baseball. That's why baseball is such a nice sport. Sometimes, you're up and down. And when you're down, you've got to work hard. That's what he's doing right now. He's not giving up. He's a very positive guy. He's going to put this one behind and concentrate on the next outing."


Doctor Joe said...

Love the site, Mr. Zuckerman. I've been a daily reader since finding it. My one regret is missing out on what must have been great Nationals coverage in the Times.

Regarding Lannan, I know the club brass is adamant that his spot in the rotation is safe. I don't think it should be. He is really hurting the team right now and if he keeps it up for the next few weeks, serious thought should be given to sending him down if/when Detwiler comes up. Let him work out his issues where it's not costing the team ballgames. Remember a few years ago the Indians sent down Cliff Lee, who had much better credentials at the time than Lannan. Obviously, it helped Lee. Ok, Lee has much better natural ability than Lannan. Perhaps Jamie Moyer when he was sent down after a few years in the bigs would be a better comparison. Maybe it would help. I do not think it would hurt. And if the struggles continue in the minors, well, it just might confirm what many people think about Lannan - that he is not a major league caliber starting pitcher. I don't necessarily buy into that just yet. I think he still could be another Moyer if he went down and got it all back together again. I just do not like having to watch a guy cost the team games while struggling to work it out in the show.

D'Gourds said...

Okay, maybe his sinker isn't sinking, but he threw a number of balls up in the zone right over the middle of the plate--the worst was the three run homer that put us down 7-4. There's no mystery in that! He has got to either keep the ball down in the zone or up out of the zone. I hope he and the organization figure this out soon. Like the above comment, I feel he should be sent down to work it out sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

What's even more baffling is why he was allowed to go out there again in the 5th...

alexva said...

Another player who does not want to admit he's hurt. You can question whether he has ever been more than a 3-4 starter but you cannot argue with his consistency to throw his pitches.

Now he can't and IMO it has to be his elbow. Please John, you've earned another shot when you're healthy, shut it down.

Doc said...

Riggleman had a rather obvious responsibiliy to not send him out in the 5th, when it had already been demonstrated that what Lannan had was not working.

Lannan is a hard-working and sincere guy who depends on his pitching his breaking stuff low. It's Riggleman's responsibility to know when his pitcher is consistently not doing what he needs to be doing. In last night's game, Riggleman should have trusted what he was seeing, before the 5th.

Big Cat said...

Is ther anyone in AA Harrisburg who might help us? It looks like the creek is dry in Syracuse. They should bring Stammens back up.

Anonymous said...

bottom of tigers lineup was coming up in the 5th. i can't fault riggleman for trying to squeeze one more inning out of him in a tie game. although i was thinking same thing.


Anonymous said...

Well, unless JD Martin gets lit up like a Christmas tree against the White Sox I think we know whose roster spot Ross Detweiler will be taking....Mr. John Lannan, I will give you three guesses and the 1st two don't count! Fare thee well "Mike O'Connor 2010 model"

Anonymous8 said...

When a lefty is described as crafty, that means he is not overpowering. When a lefty can't be described as crafty or overpowering, he can be described as Coach.

Back in Spring Training, I commented that Lannan's stats WHIP and ERA as main criteria made him a 4th starter at best on a Playoff team. That was based on 2009 criteria. Many were ticked off by that statement and a few agreed. Everyone thought of this guy as the Nats ace.

Now John will be fighting to show he is a 4th starter and as others mentioned, not kicked to the curb when Detwiler comes back.

Also of note, John in 2008 was a bad luck loser in many starts where he pitched great only to get no run support. This year and like yesterday, John got run support.

I just hope that John can find his crafty form and become that 4th starter!

N. Cognito said...

As with most soft throwers, always on the precipice of suckitude.

alexva said...

@Big Cat- Chico started yesterday so the next time Lannan's turn comes up he could spot start. After that they don't need anyone until 6/30, Detwiler would most likely be ready.

If it were up to me I'd shut him down until after the AS break at least. I don't care what he says his arm is bothering him.

DCJohn said...

If Rizzo is reading these comments, he's probably thinking of Don Rumsfeld's comment about the Iraq War:"You go to war with what you have, and not want you want." Until Ross Dewilder, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ching Ming Wang prove that they are ready, we are stuck with this starting rotation and it's running on vapors.


Don't we wish we could just hit rewind and put Walker in to start the 5th to see how this game would have played out.

Everyone here seems to believe that Riggles again screwed up which is great in hindsight but Riggles I am sure thought that Lannan could get out the #8 and #9 hitters (#9 got on by error)and get thru the 5th.

It was tough to watch.

Doc said...

Uncle Jimmy knew what Lannan didn't have, he just didn't want to believe it. 8th and 9th hitters can show 3rd and 4th hitter batting skills, against the the kind of batting practice lobs that Lannan was throwing.

Pudge knew it, and presumably the manager is always checking with his catcher.

Anonymous said...

He needs another cortisone shot or a visit to Dr. Andrews, or both!

Anonymous said...

The bottom of the Tigers' lineup had already killed him - or al least hit very hard - the first two times through. Why should the third have been any different??

Anonymous said...

Anyone besides me think that John Lannan misses Randy St. Clair? Seems like the Saint was able to help him with the fine details that a marginally (major league) talented pitcher needs to be successful. Don't get the same comments about McCatty and technical proficiency that we used to hear about St. Clair.

Big Oil said...

He is getting almost no horizontal movement on his fastball this year, as compared to years' past:


5.1, 5.2, 4.4, and for '10, 2.2(!) inches of horizonal break relative to a ball travelling unaffected by gravity toward a lefty. Hello sweet spot.

Also, his release point is very slightly higher and more over the top this year as compared to last.

2009 (example of one start):


2010 (against the Pirates):


Maybe trying to avoid re-aggrivating the injury by adjusting his delivery subconsciously? I dunno.

Pat from Bowie said...

Hey Nats Fans, this was posted elsewhere, and I am posting it here also. Regarding Lannan, it appears he does not listen to his pitching coaches, or any older and wiser pitchers who, "have been there and done that!" All the coaches and older pitchers say the same thing, and they pick it up from older timers than them, who picked it up forever ago...you cannot start out painting corners! Umps will not give you the close ones, until you show them you can work the inner or outer third of the plate in a solid manner. Otherwise it looks like you are pitching scared instead of smart, especially if you are a ground ball, "pitching to contact" etc. pitcher. Strike out artists definitely have to prove their strike throwing prowess! I have heard Lannan say, " I pitch to contact." Well, you have to be smart where you let the bat hit the ball, not paint, get balls called, then panic and throw a beach ball down the pipe! Jeez! Lannan has talent, he needs to listen to his coaches and that 35 going on 45 Livan, who really knows how to miss solid contact. If Lannan keeps ignoring those around him, he will be following Stammen when guys start coming off DL. We like you Lannan, shape up! Oh well, that's my rant, let's get the next two, win the series and move on! Go Nats! Pat from Bowie

Steady Eddie said...

Big Oil, whether or not your specifics are right, your analysis is getting to the heart of the question. Assuming he's not hurting or overcompensating to prevent being hurt -- which is a separate question -- it is not physically possible for Lannan's mechanics to be identical between his good starts and his miserable ones this year and to get different results. McCatty or someone in that deep and experienced coaching staff needs to take a hard, frame-by-frame look at how Lannan delivered his sinkers in his quality starts side-by-side with his meltdowns. It is not possible that there is no difference. When they identify the difference, they can figure out whether it's coming from mechanics that Lannan can control, or from injury/compensation to avoid injury.

Mark, you've watched Lannan for years. What does your gut tell you?

Mark Zuckerman said...

Steady Eddie: My gut says something is off with Lannan's mechanics. That's either a compensation for being hurt or something he's unconsciously done since coming back from the injury. Someone else floated a theory to me that suggested the problem could be that Lannan bulked up a bit over the winter. While extra muscle is generally a good thing and may help him hold up over the full season, a slight change in body shape could also throw off his mechanics.

Whatever the case is, like I wrote earlier, it's baffling a lot of people.

Big Cat said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with Lannan physically. The hitters watch tape of the pitchers you know. They know Lannan is a 85-88 mph nibbler. They also know that if you wait him out and don't swing at that pitch 2 inches off the plate, he will eventually give you that beachball down the middle. Give the hitters some credit and take into account that Lannans stuff isn't very good and never has been

Big Oil said...

Interesting theory on the bulking up. That could certainly do it, I'd think.

And you're right Steady Eddie -- this is where pitching coaches earn there money. Something is different. I don't think this is a case of his peripherals catching up to him.

Anonymous said...

Did somebody say Matt Chico. Oh heavens, not him again. Talk about retread sludge. I know...I know, St Clair got him to raise his leg higher which increased his velocity....oh, wait a minute....that was 2 years ago. St Clair's gone now....and so is Manny....

Anonymous said...

Matt Chico was up here for one game and did a good job. He did beter than Lannon has been doing. How much worse would it be to bring Chico up for a month while Lannon goes down to figure out what is going wrong? We lose some games? Guess what - we are losing them when Lannon pitches.

Anonymous said...

lannan most likely has been having elbow problems,he does two things that put him at risk for arm injuries,he puts his elbow above shoulder level(mark prior,freddi garcia ect) if you look at grag madduz,clemens,nolan ryan,cliff lee,there elbow never goes above shoulder level, he also turns the ball towards 2nd base/centerfield, which puts strain on the ucl

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