Nationals Baseball: Lannan down to AAA

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Lannan down to AAA

Compared to the verbal stylings of Mr. Stan Kasten, Mike Rizzo is a pretty straight shooter. This makes me a little disappointed with what he's said regarding the John Lannan demotion because frankly they only make sense if he's doing the Kasten shuffle, providing us with half-truths and sorta honest comments, in order to smooth over a difficult situation.
But I look at it this way: Detwiler earned the job. He deserved the job. It was a prudent baseball move, for the current Nationals and for the future Nationals.
Let's ignore the fact that saying "He earned a spot in Spring Training" fits right between "We got him for his veteran presence" and "We've just signed Jayson Werth for 7 years, 126 million" as things you hope to never hear you GM say. It's the second sentence where the half-truths come in.

The current Nats aren't necessarily improved by making Detwiler the 5th starter rather than John Lannan.  Veterans are overpaid because they have less variation in results.  John Lannan will give you 180IP+ with an ERA of around 4.00. That's what history tells us. Detwiler may have the same base expectation level but while you can expect Lannan to fit between 3.90 and 4.30 or so, Detwiler has more variation in his outcomes ranging all the way from "surprisingly good" to "can't cut it and returns to long relief in less than a month". If you want the highest chances of that 5th starter putting out a decent season Lannan is the obvious way to go.

Disagree?  Think Rizzo is simply committed to bringing the best 25 to DC? Then I have a few names for you.  First one is Bryce Harper.  Next few are Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, and Brett Carroll.  The best 25 is garbage talk. 

Then why chose Detwiler over Lannan? Well the simplest reason is because they can.  John Lannan has options left, Ross Detwiler does not. We've seen this thinking drive many a "but wait, doesn't that actually make the major league team a little worse?" decisions in the past and we'll see it again in the future.  GMs value control almost as much as they value winning.

It certainly could be because it helps the future Nats. Barring some sort of injury apocolypse, John Lannan just isn't part of the future in Washington. ZNN, Strasburg and Gio are all good through at least 2015. The Nats have a handful of other arms they like in the minors (Purke, Meyer, Solis, Ray) that they'd expect another starter to shake out from by the end of 2013. That's four slots taken. It's hard to beleive that the Nats would spend the moderate cash money to sign a back of the rotation guy like Lannan as he heads into FA in 2013 rather than spend big money to bring in another big name pitcher or spend no money and try to make do with minor league fill-ins. You know I'm a huge Lannan fan - signing him after 2013 is the least sensible thing to do. So given that, why not see if Detwiler (FA in 2016) can fill that "cheap minor league fill-in" role or do even better?

There is a second reason to start Detwiler though and it has to do with Rizzo's obsession with Wang (of the Chien-Ming variety, get your minds out of the gutter!)  And here it could be said, if you work through the double talk, that keeping Detwiler up is the prudent move for this year. When Wang is healthy Rizzo will want him to pitch. That seems obvious. It will be a lot easier to move Ross to long relief for Wang if he is doing fair or worse, than it would be to shift John Lannan down to the minors under the same circumstances. This for me, is really why Rizzo made this move. It's not that he values Detwiler more than Lannan.  It's that he values Wang more than either of those two and considers keeping Detwiler up "keeping the seat warm" for Chien-Ming.

But whatever the reason for a few games the Nats will be ever so slightly hurting their chances of winning games, same with leading off Desmond, or not fixing CF, of having to play any of that bench Rizzo constructed while drunk on Mai Tais at the Winter Meetings. If the Nats end up a game or two out you can look back to these in totality as much as any surprise underperformances.


Hoo said...

It's a brutal move. The Post Kilgore's pretty much spelled out how badly the Nats screwed Lannan and thinks it will be interesting how this plays out. It's arguably the most mercenary move made, especially after Lannan had a solid spring performance and Davey called him his 5th starter.

Harper said...

It sucks for Lannan but if the team wins and pays the $$$ it won't matter to anyone but Lannan, who doesn't have a future with this team anyway. Not even the fans (really you don't want you team to act this way for a minimal gain in talent but hey! Playoffs!)

It's not the WRONG move, but it's not the best move for 2012. To me this shows a bit of "Wait till next year" in Rizzo's thinking with injuries already piling up.

JWLumley said...

Totally agree, that Rizzo was tap dancing on this one and his comments most likely don't jibe with his actual intentions, but I like the move.

Detwiler still has a tremendous amount of upside and actually pitched pretty well down the stretch. If the Nats really are playing for 2013 (see: Harper, Bryce), then why not find out once and for all what they've got in Detwiler? Maybe he turns into the pitcher they thought he would be when they drafted him seventh overall (the stuff is certainly there), or maybe they learn that he's a middle reliever at best. Either way, they'll know what they have in Detwiler moving forward.

Donald said...

I'm not sure I still think this in the cold light of day, but my initial reaction was that it might be a short-term way to increase Detwiler's trade value. Rizzo thinks we have too many starting pitchers and wanted to deal Lannan, but there weren't many takers. If he still wanted to trade Lannan, he wouldn't move him to AAA. But there were apparently a number of calls in regard to Detwiler. Say Rizzo decided that maybe that was the way to go but that he'd want much more in return. Show casing him for a few starts against probable weak opponents might just be the ticket.

Ollie said...

My line of thought's similar to Donald on this. To me Detwiler's been overvalued: he's 26 and never blown people away in the minors or majors. But he's younger, cheaper, under team control for several more years, and baseball folks (GMs) seem to like him so he has more value than Lannan on the trade market.

Between utilizing the flaws in a system and overpaying per draft slot the last three years (good) and trading for Johnny Gomes in the hope that he'd lead to a draft pick (bad) Rizzo clearly thinks outside the box for stuff like this. Detwiler seems like the best trade asset for a young CF (like Upton) so maybe that factors into this decision.

However, if that's the route they're going, I think you could have showcased him in long relief/spot starts. I like Lannan and he's had a proven track record of success, and treating a vet like that could potentially rub some in the clubhouse the wrong way. This is the worst move Rizzo's made in my opinion.

DezoPenguin said...

The Wang analysis seems spot-on here; Rizzo (and maybe Davey, too) clearly wants him to be the 5th starter. Though Det's always been the guy with "a lot of upside," whatever that's worth (he can ask Jackson about that...), and if you believe that his performance last year was him finally realizing that potential then that's considerably better than what you could reasonably expect from Lannan (who, 2010 aside, is as you note a known quantity). After all, upside plus a small sample size of good performance made a lot of people think Peacock (and friends)-for-Gio was a lousy or at least dangerous deal.

Section 222 said...

In terms of a roster spot, this wasn't a Lannan or Detwiler decision, it was a Lannan or Stammen decision. Detwiler was going to be on the roster regardless. That's why I think this move was about showcasing Detwiler for a possible trade. Other teams know what they would be getting in Lannan, and they aren't offering much. If Rizzo would consider a trade of Detwiler, he has to pump up his value. And giving him 4-6 starts over the next month certainly doesn't hurt the team much, compared to what Lannan would have done in the No. 5 starter spot.

Nattydread said...

The better the team, the more brutal the moves get.

I believed Johnson when he said "Lannan's my #5".

There was more going on than we see as fans --- and clearly Johnson and Rizzo (and who else?) were playing Lannan's future on the office white board.

Rizzo knows what type of team he wants and, as his actions with fan-favorite Dunn showed, he is not sentimental. He makes the decision.

He is not Mr Nice guy --- that's Davey's job.

You gotta feel for Lannan. But still, its not the high school football team, its big business and Lannan has a paycheck and a future as a 4/5 starter.

Unless catastrophe strikes, not with the Nats, tho.

Wally said...

I agree with many of your individual statements, but not this conclusion: It will be a lot easier to move Ross to long relief for Wang if he is doing fair or worse, than it would be to shift John Lannan down to the minors under the same circumstances. This for me, is really why Rizzo made this move.

I disagree. I think Davey doesn't value Lannan, and does value Detwiler's upside, and finally convinced Rizzo to bite the bullet. If he starts with Lannan, and Lannan is pitching well, they could likely trade him when CMW is ready. If he is pitching poorly, they send him down. Not sure why that is harder then than now.

I agree with you that Lannan is the better choice for 2012, although not by a wide spread. With Det, I was always a little surprised when he did well, and Lannan almost always frustrated me that he didn't do better (mostly because of the walks, which almost always feel controllable to me). But I am ok with the move, since I don't think it has a big impact. Rizzo, though, needs to work on what he says about people. No need to alienate Lannan with the 'I had 5 guys better than him' kind of stuff.

Fair warning, I am stealing this:Rizzo's obsession with Wang (of the Chien-Ming variety. Well played, sir.

Nick said...

If Detwiler is going to be the 5th starter to boost his trade value, why didn't Rizzo swap him for Bourn last year? I recall reading that the Braves wanted Detwiler as the centerpiece of a deal for Bourn, and Rizzo said no. I am just confused with this move, and I don't see why Lannan couldn't even be the long man out of the pen.

Chris Needham said...

I think you're making a mistake if you're thinking this was about Detwiler at all. It's not to showcase him. It's not to see what he got. It's a pure numbers game.

At the end of the day, they were choosing between Stammen and Mattheus for the last roster spot. Neither had options.

So rather than making the tough call there and risk losing one, they send down the one guy on the team who they can with little effect on the team.

It's not that Detwiler won it. Or that they're showcasing him. If he had options, he'd be in the minors. Just as if Mattheus had them, he'd have gone instead.

Now Harpers point about this being a way to grease the skids for some Wang love make sense too.

But at the end of the day, it was Stammen/Mattheus that caused Lannan to go.

Wally said...

Chris - I thought that both Stammen and Mattheus have 1 option left, only Detwiler was out of options.

At least that is the way most bloggers like Kilgore & Zuck have written it.

Section 222 said...

Chris -- Usually love your analysis, but both Mattheus and Stammen have an option left. (Which raises the question of why they didn't keep Durbin and send Mattheus down.) In any event, either Mattheus or Stammen is sent back to SYR when Storen returns, and the other will follow when Wang returns. I expect the first to go will be Mattheus since Davey seems enamored of having a left and a righty long reliever in the pen and will want to have that until Wang comes back though.

Only Detwiler is out of options (thanks to the idiotic Jimbo) and that's why he has always been assured of a spot on the 2012 pitching staff -- whether as a long reliever/spot starter, or as a starter. When Wang comes back, he'll go to the bullpen but he'll have more trade value if he pitches well for the next month. Lannan, on the other hand, is what he is and other teams already have plenty to evaluate him by. His value isn't going to change much by pitching well, or poorly, or by being sent down.

As to why Detwiler wasn't traded last summer as part of a deal for Bourn, I don't remember hearing that that offer was on the table. More importantly, last summer, we didn't have Gio.

Ollie said...

@Wally---this quote from Davey makes me think it was Rizzo's call, not his. Notice the use of "organization", not team:

"I had a change of heart," Johnson said of the decision. "The best thing for the organization today, as well as tomorrow, is for Ross Detwiler to get the opportunity to start."

Section 224 said...

If the Nats' season (or any team for that matter) rests on a 5th starter's shoulders, then this isn't the team that folks are saying might be a year away from October. Lannan is good for innings, but so was Livan. And he's on his second team in 2012 already. Can the Nats get something better than a ham sandwich for Lannan? At best you get 4th starter value in trade. If, however, Det gives us a reliable long relief and #5 until CMW returns, and CMW returns to his Yankee's glory days this season, then start saving for October tickets. Honestly, if Detwiler or CMW is the worst starter on the roster this season, we're all going to forget Washington Baseball misery after 2012.

All this said, I like Lannan and will miss him if he's traded. He's been a good soldier on some miserable Nats teams. But part of moving the Nats to the next level like the Braves, Yankees or Phils is making the hard decisions when you must. Lannan is like the girl you dated in high school and think back on fondly, but he'll never be the guy we put out there for Game 7.

Chris Needham said...

I stand corrected then. Where did I read that Stammen was out of options then? Last time I trust something I read on the internet!

Chris Needham said...

Ah, looking now, I assumed he had been optioned out in 2009... when he was on the DL. OK, I'll retreat back to my hole.

Harper said...

Pig.Pen - yeah I said a few weeks ago that Detwiler was my "head" move. It's the smart way to go for the 2013+ Nats.

Donald/Ollie - eh... I guess. i'm not feeling it though. I mean, if Detwiler DOES pitch well why trade a guy that could be a cheap back of the rotation starter for the next few years? That's something you want to have. Though if you're SURE you have something better coming. Still the way these guys are hoarding good CFs it'll take more than Detwiler looking like a decent back-end starter to get one back.

Dezo - I'd be more inclined to buy into Peacock's small samp size than Detwilers. Detwiler's had a couple small sample sizes go the other way. Sure the latest one counts most but still I want to see patterns.

222- If it's Lannan or Stammen you want Lannan - no question - but I get your point. If they truly are showcasing Detwiler doesn't that mean they have faith that he CAN pump his value up and if they do have that faith wouldn't they want to use him themselves? I just don't buy this.

Nattydread - If the Nats make the series SOMEONE MUST DIE! It's big business but you cna be ruthless in business without being a dick about it, leaving your manager hanging out to dry and screwing a loyal employee at the last possible moment. Rizzo makes this call 9 days earlier and it's far more understandable.

Wally/Ollie - I disagree with you Wally and agree with Ollie. My point about Ross/John is that if John has a 4.00 ERA it feels odd to pull him for arguably lateral move to Wang, while if Ross has that ERA moving him to the pen for the established Wang seems more reasonable. At least it feels that way to me

hard to argue terribly with the move, just the execution

Nick - yeah that's what I remember too. Another thing against trade value! I'm right!

222- you still make a Detwiler for Bourn deal with or without Gio on the team.

224 - Can't disagree, really this isn't a problem with the move itself (well it is if you are fan dying for a 2012 playoff push but forget them) just the timing of it.

Needham - NEEDHAM!

A Fly Moses said...

I don't see the part where Detwiler necessarily makes the team worse this year than Lannan does. Certainly that might end up being the case, but arguing "veterans are always better than young unproven guys" is insane.

Lannan is a soft-tossing guy who should never be more than a 4th or 5th pitcher; Detwiler is a power arm, picked 6th overall, who has 3rd starter upside.
Obviously where someone was drafted isn't dispositive of anything (other than quality of their stuff, for the most part), but there are two things you're overlooking here: (1) Detwiler pitched better than Lannan last year, and (2) if Rizzo and the scouts/etc watched Detwiler pitch this spring and said "he's better than Lannan right now", are they not supposed to act on it? I don't really see how overruling their scouting decisions would make sense, unless you're a trust-the-numbers, not-the-scouts kind of guy, and that group of people is entirely mutually exclusive of the group of people who like John Lannan as a pitcher.

Detwiler may be riskier, but that doesn't mean his expected value is lower.