Could John Lannan be this year’s Darren Oliver?

John LannanWhen the Mets signed John Lannan to a minor-league deal, it was likely to bring him in to compete for the fifth starter role in spring training.

The signing is exciting because it represents something more than just another option for fifth starter: It represents the move forward for the organization.

In the first three offseasons under General Manager Sandy Alderson, the back end of the rotation was filled with proverbial John LannansChris Young, Chris Capuano and Shaun Marcum – who were signed with the expectation that they would be on the opening day roster, because of the need for them.

The Lannan deal is encouraging because this time around, the Mets don’t really need another player to compete for a starting rotation spot.  Owing to the the pipeline of young pitching that has moved through the ranks of the minor league system, the Mets enter spring training in the rare situation of not needing to fill out a rotation.

The signing is also great because if he doesn’t make the starting rotation out of spring, Lannan could still serve a purpose on the big league club in 2014.

If Lannan performs well enough in spring to merit an opening day roster spot, but Jenrry Mejia (or some other dark-horse option) beats him out for a spot in the starting five, he may find a role as that ever-elusive second lefty out of the bullpen that Mets Manager Terry Collins loves so much.

With Scott Rice’s surprisingly stellar performance last year placing him as the number one lefty in the Met bullpen, Lannan’s only real competition for a roster spot will be Josh Edgin, who seemingly fell out of favor last year.

Unlike Edgin, Lannan has added benefit of being able to pitch multiple innings and make a spot start in case of an emergency.  In short, Lannan is a perfect candidate to fill the long reliever role that the Mets haven’t really had since Darren Oliver in 2006, save for a few months of Hisanori Takahashi in 2010.

Sure, Lannan has never made a relief appearance in his seven-year career, and his 1.4 K:BB ratio is nothing to write home about, but Oliver’s career number was exactly the same going into 2006 (1.43).

The similarities don’t end there.  They both fall into the category of a “crafty” lefty – meaning that they have a lack of velocity and need to rely on location and movement to get outs.

When the Mets put Oliver in the bullpen, his strikeouts ticked up and his walks decreased, resulting in a 2.86 K:BB ratio, the highest of his career to that point.  He would produce 1.1 bWAR for the Mets that year.  There’s reason to believe that Lannan may experience similar success if moved to the bullpen.

The reason is simple: pitchers perform better as relievers than they do as starters.  Because relief outings are shorter (even a long reliever would rarely go more than three or four innings), they can throw harder, which research has shown has a relationship to run prevention (albeit a small one).

Also, and more importantly, it allows pitchers to take advantage of situational matchups more.

This is not likely to have a large effect on Lannan’s results, because his performance against lefties and righties has been nearly identical over the course of his career: lefties have a .333 wOBA, righties have a .334 wOBA.

The biggest obstacle to Lannan earning this role would be Carlos Torres.  He seemingly would be a the front-runner for this type of a position in the bullpen, and I’ll grant you that he probably is.  But given Lannan’s handedness, it’s easy to see why the team might prefer to carry him as well.

Also I’ll ask you this: What exactly is the harm in carrying multiple bullpen arms who can pitch multiple innings?

I’d argue there is no harm, and there may actually be a benefit to it, because it becomes easier to save your better arms for when you really need them, and giving a pitcher a day off doesn’t leave you as short handed.

It would be a great advantage in an extra inning game, and if a starter gets knocked out early, you could realistically make it to the sixth or seventh without burning more than two guys.

Of course there’s no guarantee that Lannan would even be open to a move to the bullpen should he fail to earn the fifth starter role out of spring training.

But he should, because it could be his last chance at salvaging a few more years out of his career.

Joe Vasile is the voice of the Fayetteville (NC) SwampDogs. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.

11 comments for “Could John Lannan be this year’s Darren Oliver?

  1. January 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    John Lannan’s career splits make him unsuited for the lefty specialist role, and who knows if handle the constant up-and-down it requires.

    Tim Byrdak might be worth a spring training invitation, if you’re concerned about a second lefty. Carlos Torres seems better suited to the long-reliever, spot starter role because he’s had experience doing it – Lannan has never really worked out of the bullpen before.

    • Joe Vasile
      January 20, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      I know his splits don’t indicate that he’d be a good lefty specialist – I say as much in the article.

      I don’t see what the issue with having both Torres and Lannan in the bullpen is, and I’m not really concerned that he hasn’t worked as a reliever before. Most relievers are starters first who transition to the bullpen. It’s very rare that someone is exclusively a reliever.

  2. January 20, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I would be shocked if Edgin had fallen out of favor with the Mets. After returning from the minors in mid-June, he had an 0.93 ERA and a 1.086 WHIP in 23 games before coming down with the rib injury.

    • Joe Vasile
      January 20, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Fallen out of favor may not have been the best way to phrase what I was trying to say. What I meant by it was I don’t think that he is guaranteed a job out of spring training.

      • eric
        January 20, 2014 at 4:47 pm

        no one in the bullpen is guaranteed a spot save for parnell. but id bet money the remaining guys are who most of us expect:
        black, edgin, rice, german, torres.
        and i think thats a great make up for a pen.

  3. Jerry Grote
    January 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Much like always going for 2 points instead of a PAT, or nearly never punting, or putting the highest OBP guy first in the order regardless of their speed, having two long relievers is an idea that is right all the way through.

    The Mets average 15 extra innings games. I could see a game plan where either Torres or Lannan is the extra innings guy in every one of those situations until the game ends.

    Doubt Terry has the cojanes to be that experimental, but hey … we did see Duda at the top of the order last year. Never know.

  4. Name
    January 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    There are a ton of comps you could come up with a highish ERA, very high WHIP, low SO, low SO/BB crafty lefty.

    Oliver could be a best-case scenario if he was moved to pen.
    Or he could turn out like last year’s crafty lefty experiment: Aaron Laffey.
    Best case scenario if he stays in the rotation Clayton Richard 2011, worst case rotation wise Clayton Richard 2013.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg. People could probably think of more.

    • Joe Vasile
      January 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      You’re absolutely right, name. There are literally 10,000 players that I could compare Lannan to. I was kind of looking at this from a best-case perspective, and I think that Oliver is a decent comp for Lannan (especially since it is Mets-centric). If it doesn’t turn out well, you cut ties with Lannan bring up a replacement player from Las Vegas and you’re out a pro-rated portion of the major league minimum.

  5. Metsense
    January 20, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    “What exactly is the harm in carrying multiple bullpen arms who can pitch multiple innings?
    I’d argue there is no harm, and there may actually be a benefit to it, because it becomes easier to save your better arms for when you really need them, and giving a pitcher a day off doesn’t leave you as short handed.”
    Joe, I couldn’t agree more. Major League bullpen makeup is baffling to me. When you are winning a game the most pitchers you need are three: one for the 7th, one for the eighth and one for the ninth. The rest of the time you should bring in a reliever that can take you as far as he can pitching multiple innings. Instead managers use a relief pitcher for only one inning and thus burn out their bullpens. In a major league bullpen there should be 3-4 pitchers that can pitch multiple innings.
    In regard to Lannan, if he earns a spot in the bullpen, good for him. I would rather see him a bullpen role instead of starting over Mejia, Montero, Syndergaard or deGrom.. In the years to come, I can envision many of the young Met arms that can’t break the starting rotation getting their major league experience as multi inning relief pitchers.

    • Patrick Albanesius
      January 22, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      I love this whole comment. If guys aren’t good enough to be in the 7th or 8th, then what are they doing on the team if they can’t provide innings. Bravo!

  6. Name
    January 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Maybe Sandy really wanted a lefty or Lannan was only making the min… but Chad Gaudin signed on to the Phillies on a Minor League deal only worth 750k… He was even better than Torres in the swing role.
    3.53 ERA in 12 starts
    2.05 ERA in 18 bullpen appearances
    Unlike Torres, FIP likes his peripherals and thinks it was for real (3.34 for Gaudin, 4.30 for Torres)

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