The topic du jour this morning seems to be fixing John Lannan after the Nationals' 7-4 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night. And with good reason - Lannan between a solid Nats rotation and one that's just hanging on until a handful of replacements get healthy.
But what, specifically, is going on? I'll attempt to explain it, using some sabermetrics and some plain talk. Take your pick of which you like better.
Because Lannan's fastball rarely tops 90 mph, his game is pounding the strike zone - sometimes throwing his fastball 75-80 percent of the time - and adding his other pitches to it later in the game. In 2008, Lannan's fastball got the job done when hitters hadn't seen him yet. His fastball was 10.2 runs better than average. Last year, Lannan's secondary pitches counterpunched hitters who were starting to figure out his fastball - his changeup jumped from -3.7 runs worse than average to 6.3 above average, as his fastball fell from 10.2 to -4.8. It's all helped to get Lannan bushels of ground-ball outs
This year, Lannan hasn't had an out pitch. His sinker hasn't been sinking (the homer he gave up to Ryan Raburn), and his percentage of ground balls has dropped slightly (51.9 percent to 49.6 percent). If Lannan's fastball doesn't work, it makes the rest of his stuff that much less effective; it's almost like his fastball opens the door for the rest of his pitches. That's true of most pitchers, but even more so of Lannan.
And no one seems more frustrated by it than Lannan, who's been a master of plugging leaks in his game the last two years and not making mistakes twice. He studies fastidiously and is usually quick to spot problems. He seems to know what the issues are this year, but whether he's still hurting from elbow discomfort or searching for a mechanical fix, he isn't the same pitcher we've seen the last two years. The Nationals' rotation hinges somewhat on his ability to get back to being that pitcher.