Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi are reporting that the Washington Nationals, fresh off of winning their arbitration case against John Lannan, are looking to trade him in order to make room for the just-signed Edwin Jackson.
Lannan will make $5 million in 2012, and won't be a free agent until after the 2013 season. At first blush, his numbers are not impressive -- just 5.2 strikeouts per nine in 2011, career punch out rate of 4.7, and a 1.4 career K/BB ratio. At second glance, well, they still aren't impressive, but they are better than you would think given those peripherals.
Lannan is a groundball pitcher who has never induced fewer than 50 percent grounders, and holds a career groundball-to-flyball ratio of 1.9. His FIP haven't exactly been stellar despite this, as he's been about 12 percent worse than the league in that regard over his career.
His ERA has been a bit better than average, though, over 751 career innings. There's either something he does that helps him beat out his FIP each year, or he's the luckiest dude on the mound most nights. While this might not account for all of it, Lannan does do one thing that FIP doesn't account for: he's exceptional when it comes to inducing double plays.
Like with any statistic, there is an expected number of double plays a pitcher is assumed to induce each year. Since 2008, Lannan's first full season in the majors, he has induced 29 more double plays than expected according to Baseball Prospectus, the sixth-best total in the majors. That's roughly seven extra double plays induced per year, a figure that's worth a few tenths of a run of ERA each season -- that explains at least some of the discrepancy between his FIP and ERA. Joe Saunders is similar in that regard as well, as has been discussed this winter, and like Saunders, Lannan is left-handed with average control of his stuff.
Lannan certainly isn't a game-changing kind of pitcher, but he has averaged 179 innings a year over the last four seasons in the majors (and 189 innings per year if you include the 40-plus frames he threw in the minors in 2010 after experiencing some elbow discomfort). He's not the sexiest option, but he's at least been dependable in terms of showing up and giving his team a chance each night out. With Boston's infield defense behind him, at least some of the switch from the NL to the AL could be neutralized, too, and being left-handed in the AL East certainly isn't a bad thing.
Think of it this way: Lannan might be something like the healthy version of Aaron Cook. Cook was actually an above-average starter before he began to have his health issues (and had to possibly deal with the after-effects of too many innings at altitude), though it's hard to remember that now given those problems have reduced him to non-guaranteed contracts and spring training invites.
Since Jackson is no longer an option and Oswalt might not be going forward, how do you feel about the Red Sox inquiring about Lannan? They could possibly use extra pieces from the 40-man to get him -- the Nationals are using 38 spots on their 40-man roster, including Jackson. They could also see just how much the Nationals are willing to pay to be rid of his rotation spot in order to make room for Jackson. What would it take for this to be okay? Should Boston be waiting it out, or aiming higher?
Thanks to R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus for digging up the expected double play data.