Is John Lannan a Capable Fifth Starter for Philadelphia Phillies?

John Lannan Philadelphia Phillies

Derrick Hingle-USA Today Sports

Philadelphia Phillies fans used to know John Lannan as “the guy who hit Chase Utley that one time”.

It was 2007, and the Phillies were making a serious run towards the playoffs. On a hot late-July day, Lannan plunked Utley, breaking his right hand and forcing him to miss 28 games. Now teammates, Lannan and Utley have put the past to rest, looking forward to 2013. For Lannan, he wants to be known as more than “the guy who replaced Stephen Strasburg” at the end of last season.

Lannan was the de-facto ace for the Washington Nationals five years ago, but the team’s now-stacked pitching rotation forced him to AAA last season. In replacing Strasburg down the stretch, Lannan finished 4-1 with a 4.13 in six starts for the Nationals in 2012, but enjoyed a decent amount of run support in helping him to those wins.

Luckily for the Phillies (and for Lannan), they are not asking him to be the ace. He never truly was one in Washington, because he just simply doesn’t have ace talent. The Phillies will ask him to be their fifth starter, which is a role more suited for the left-hander. The question is whether he will be able to keep his job throughout the season.

Lannan has just a 4.71 K/9 ratio is his career. Anyone knows that a K/9 rate under 6.0 is always asking for trouble. If Lannan does not get his groundballs, he is at risk for giving up a lot of hits in any given game. That said, his groundball rate throughout his career has always been pretty steady, so the Phillies should expect that to continue.

If Lannan wants to enjoy success, however, he will have to avoid walks. He walked 14 batters in just 32.2 innings last year. If he continues that type of pace, he will be in trouble in almost every game. The Phillies don’t want to have a pitcher who has to walk the tightrope every game.

The question for Lannan is whether or not the defense behind him can be strong enough to field all the grounders expected to be in play this season. Michael Young is a sub-par defender at third base, and many are already calling for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to have a different third baseman in games Lannan starts. It’s a novel idea, and if Young struggles at third, it’s something we could see sooner rather than later.

So, ultimately, what is the book on Lannan? He’s a decent fifth starter, nothing more and nothing less. The Phillies will actually be sad to see him go from the Nationals, as they always performed pretty well against him. With no spot in that stellar rotation, however, Lannan now finds himself in Philadelphia.

He may be a fifth starter, but for Lannan, it’s better than spending time in AAA as he did in 2012.

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