Boston can’t be blamed for considering it. Lefty starters aren’t a dime-a-dozen, and with Tim Wakefield retired and both John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka sidelined with injuries, the Red Sox are currently working with a shallow pool of potential starting pitchers.
That being said, Lannan is not a must-have for the Red Sox. In fact, there are several red flags for the lefty that should make Boston reconsider making a move for him.
Consistently allowing base runners is a recipe for disaster for any pitcher looking to make a mark in the American League East. The offenses are just too relentless to permit a penchant for playing with fire (unless you’re Daisuke Matsuzaka in the 2008 season).
John Lannan has been lucky at this point not to get burned too badly. Even as major league offense has trended downward, Lannan’s WHIP has never been below 1.34. His 1.46 mark from 2011 ranked 87th among major league starters.
A career ERA of 4.00 has somewhat masked Lannan’s penchant for allowing baserunners. Eventually Lannan’s high WHIP will catch up to him—particularly if he moves from a relatively light-hitting division like the NL East to the big-bashing AL East.
Lannan’s M.O. is a sinker that induces ground balls and double plays (he ranked second in the majors in the latter category in 2011). Unfortunately, as his career WHIP attests to, that penchant for ground balls is undone by less-than-stellar control; his career strikeout-to-walk ratio is just 1.39.
Soft-tossers like Lannan are forced to adapt means of deception to compensate for their lack of overpowering stuff. Perhaps that will come later down the road for the lefty, but for now he’s not fooling many hitters. For his career Lannan is allowing batters to hit .272 against him.
Allowing that type of contact on a consistent basis nixes any benefit of having two reigning Gold Glove winners (Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez) in the infield behind him.
For starting pitchers who are changing leagues, it’s almost always easier to move from the American League to the National League. At least every ninth batter they face is either a pitcher or a pinch hitter, and in general the senior circuit lacks the explosive offenses of its junior counterpart.
Take two members of the Phillies’ starting rotation, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, as examples. Once each switched leagues, they went from being very good to great.
Conversely, the track record of successful NL starters coming over to the American League is much spottier. For every Dan Haren—successful after trades from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Oakland A’s and Arizona Diamondbacks to the Los Angeles Angels—there is a Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano, Jake Peavy or Jeff Suppan.
In addition, anyone coming to pitch in the American League East for the first time is in for some bumpy rides. It’s a division known for wearing pitchers down to the bone, and it’s a rare find when an outsider—particularly a starter—can come in and succeed.
Yes, Lannan has experience, having been the Nationals’ Opening Day starter in 2009 and ’10. But how many high-pressure situations has he truly faced, playing for a perennial cellar dweller?
You might have to go back to August 2007—Lannan’s third major league start—when he held Barry Bonds hitless in Bonds’ first start since breaking the all-time home run record.
It’s a lot to ask a young starter who has never been exposed to the pressure of a pennant race or the expectation of a postseason appearance to come in and be a difference maker.
Add to that the fact that Lannan has never had a winning record in a full major league season—even if he has been durable—and it becomes questionable whether he could deal with Boston’s pressure cooker environment.
The Red Sox may lack depth in their starting rotation, but when healthy Boston’s top three starters—Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz—rival those of any rotation in baseball.
Combine those three with an explosive offense and the Red Sox are well positioned to be in contention for a playoff spot even if they make no major moves before Opening Day.
And if they need help for their rotation, the options at the trade deadline are more appetizing than Lannan. The Brewers’ Zack Greinke is in his contract year, and if Milwaukee regresses and falls out of playoff contention, they could look to unload him. Same with the Cubs and Matt Garza. Or the Mets and R.A. Dickey.
Those are just three pitchers with a leg up over Lannan, either in terms of accomplishments or experience in pressure situations. And for all the Red Sox know Daniel Bard and/or Alfredo Aceves could make a successful transition to being a starter, or Daisuke Matsuzaka could contribute once he returns from injury.
Despite Red Sox fans’ worst fears, the team can afford to stand pat until the trading deadline, when they’ll know what they truly need to get back to October.