Behind John Lannan’s resurgence

The transformation John Lannan has made since returning from Double-A Harrisburg on Aug. 1 continues to be nothing short of impressive.

Not only has Lannan regained his form as a solid ground-ball pitcher capable of turning in quality starts almost every time out, his strikeout totals have been on the rise in his last few starts, adding a new development to his game.

Lannan had 24 strikeouts in 14 starts before he was sent down in June. He has 41 in nine starts since he came back, and 19 in his last three outings (including six in a win over the Braves yesterday). His strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last four starts is 3.28-to-1; he’s never consistently posted a K-to-BB ratio that good in his career.

He’s sacrificed a few ground balls in his last two starts, but his September 4 outing at Pittsburgh, during which Lannan struck out seven while inducing 15 grounders and holding the Pirates to one run in seven innings, ranks as one of the finest of his career.

There’s been a subtle difference in Lannan’s delivery since he’s come back from the minors - as we’ve mentioned here a couple times, he’s crouching a little more, particularly from the windup, to hide the ball better. For a 6-foot-4 pitcher who stood pretty tall on his way to the plate and doesn’t have overpowering stuff, the small adjustment - cooked up at Hsrrisburg with pitching coach Randy Tomlin - has worked wonders.

Lannan fought his two-seam fastball (his go-to pitch) during the early part of the season, but he’s got his sink back on that pitch and has finally been able to control lefties with his changeup. For Lannan, deception is a big part of getting strikeouts. It has to be; his fastball barely touches 90 mph, and his curveball and slider are average offerings.

But he’s a smart, self-correcting pitcher who made the best of his time in the minors, and his altered delivery is generating a few more swings and misses than it was before. He’s also throwing more strikes, particularly early in counts, which shouldn’t go unmentioned.

All of this comes at an opportune time for Lannan; he hits salary arbitration after the season and is looking more than ever like a pitcher in whom the Nationals need to invest. Before the season, when Lannan was preparing for his second consecutive Opening Day start, he switched agents from The Show’s Andrew Mongelluzzi to CAA’s Brodie Van Wagenen in preparation for his first go-round with the arbitration system.

Lannan doesn’t have enough time to get his key numbers (ERA and WHIP, particularly) back down to where they were in 2008 and 2009, but he’s been in command over the last six weeks like he was for stretches in both of those seasons, and he should get a nice payday for himself this winter.

At this point, with Stephen Strasburg out for most of 2011 and Jordan Zimmermann still learning, the Nationals need some stability. Lannan, once again, seems able to provide that, and he should benefit financially from it this winter.