I need you to close your eyes to imagine something before I get into talking about John Lannan.
Wait, no, this is a visual medium. Keep your eyes open. Imagine this as best you can with your eyes open and reading these words. I want you to picture your old CD collection. Record, cassette, 8-Track, heck, even mp3 collection will suffice if needed; sub in when necessary. Just take yourself back to when you were younger and you had a big collection of music that you felt really spoke to you as a person. You got it?
Okay. Now think about those albums. You have your favorite ones -- the ones that are in constant rotation. And you have the ones that make you the most emotional, for when you have breakups or your crush doesn't notice you or whatever. Teen stuff. And then there are the clunkers; the ones that barely made it out of the shrinkwrap and litter the collection because, in your teen heart, you can't throw anything away.
But put those aside, and imagine with me those CDs that fall somewhere in the middle of these various extremes. The ones that, yeah, you kind of remember listening to, but that don't leave too much of a mark. The ones that fell into the bottom of a 1 dollar bin and you picked up because the cover art was good, or a buddy said that he thought he'd heard of that one before and it was decent. Whatever the reason, you have the CD, but it's never done much for you, good or bad. You don't throw it out, but, if it was stolen, well...you'd probably never notice.
What am I getting at (other than a rather oblique preview of my longform analysis of j reed's unbelievable recent work in fanposts)? Well, those middling CDs, the ones you can barely remember? Those are John Lannan as a member of the 2013 Phillies. Fangraphs has his WAR at .3; baseball-reference has it at -.2. If we meet in the middle, John Lannan ends up at .05 WAR, or close enough to 0 WAR to make a point.
Take that in for a moment. John Lannan was obviously not Cliff Lee, but then again no one expected him to be. And yes, had he qualified for the ERA title, he'd be the bottom of the barrel according to Fangraphs, with Edinson Volquez' .4 fWAR just edging him out. But take away the qualified condition, and we see that Lannan was no *sob* Roy Halladay (-.8 fWAR), Clayton Richard (-1.3 fWAR), or Jason Marquis (-1.6 fWAR). Indeed, we probably can't say with any validity that you could have thrown the TGP staff every five days and gotten the same result (though we are working on our change, and our curveball is fringe plus plus), but we also can't say that he was a world beater.
John Lannan was, in short, vanilla ice cream. Great if you pair it with pie (see Joe Kelly), bad if you pair it with Wolf Brand Chili (see Jason Marquis), and boring on its own (see the Phillies). We might be angry with John Lannan, or more accurately at Ruben Amaro, Jr for taking up the spot of someone who could be a potential star (say a minor league or low risk signing) with a 0.0 WAR abomination. But Lannan's ceiling was around 1 WAR, which is useful; it's hardly his fault if his floor is just 1 WAR south.
And so it is with a forgiving heart that we remember John Lannan's 74.1 innings pitched, his 4.6 K/9, and his deeply unlucky 313 BABIP. He rode the line between terrible and useful to a perfect mediocrity. If contemporary art, philosophy, and literature has taught us anything, there is nothing so difficult as the avoidance of exceptionality. John Lannan has performed this feat with applomb; his reward is a swift descent into our memories, never to be seen or thought of again.
Here, his official exit:
1) This season was an unmitigated disaster. How did you contribute to the disaster?
Well, here's the thing. I pitched the innings I was asked to pitch. Now, I didn't help my teammates win too much, but I also didn't help them to lose either. And hey, through the first half of the year, 52.2 of my 74.1 innings, I pitched to a 3.76 ERA. That's not bad for a fifth starter.
You, uh, you can ignore the 2nd half ERA. Y...yeah, that's a 9. And a .14. 9.14 ERA. I, uh, I change my answer to that I pitched to a 9.14 ERA in 21.2 innings to end the season. But you gotta round out a 0.0 performance! That doesn't happen without effort!
2) If I had traded you mid-season, would the team have done better or worse?
Is...this a trick question? I suppose better, because you wouldn't have my 9.14 ERA innings. But who could you have traded for that would provide such rounded inertial value? I feel like it would have been too much of a symbolic loss. It would have been a terrible disaster -- for me, too, mind you, as I'd have to start again in my quest to reach zero wins.
3) All of my options are open for next year. Should I trade you, keep you, or release you?
Well, I mean, what will you get in trade? Air? Air has a career WAR of 0.0, as it evens out in good and bad handicaps and mostly just lets you breathe. Air's great. But probably you don't need to trade for it. If you release me, you risk opening up a spot for negative value; I can promise I won't provide much of that, at least.
I think you should keep me. Think about it: just one spot on your 40 man roster guaranteed to provide no value? That's the new market inefficiency...right?
4) Some people have questioned whether I should keep my job. Tell them to go "blank" themselves by explaining why I should keep it forever.
Newton's Second Law of Thermodynamics...and you'll forgive me, heh, I'm a bit rusty. It's been a while since Miss Jackson's 11th grade physics class. But the law states that matter can neither be created or destroyed. This is entropy -- the amount of matter in the universe is static. We cannot add or take away from it. All stays very constant.
I feel, by rostering me sir, that you've shown your ability to not only grasp, but also embrace this difficult concept. We cannot go forward, but we do not have to go backward. Perhaps if you maintain your hold on the position, you can create the 0.0 WAR team that many of us have been waiting for.
5) Overall, explain to me how your time with the Philadelphia Phillies has been the highlight of your life.
"Highlight" is such an over-achieving word. I prefer to think of my time as...as like sitting in a waiting room. There is a tan carpet, and a fluorescent light is humming above me, about to die in the next week or so. There are four other people in the room: not crowded, but not empty. The magazines are all about two months old, and refer to controversies long resolved. And the doctor has been 17 minutes late...not too long to worry, but not so short that I don't notice. I'm waiting and I am level because I can't even bring forth the emotions to get happy or sad or anywhere in between. That's kind of what my time with the Phillies has been like.
You know: perfect.