In a multitude of different ways, John Lannan is a very similar player to Nick Blackburn. The former, a starter for the Nationals, throws left-handed while Blackburn throws from the right side, but in spite of that disparity the two have followed startlingly similar career paths.
Both pitchers made brief big-league debuts in 2007 before becoming full-time starters for their respective clubs in 2008. Both proved to be workhorses in their first two big-league seasons, making 30-plus starts and averaging about 200 innings between the 2008 and 2009 campaigns. Most importantly for the purposes of this article, both were able to rise above rather unimpressive strikeout rates to post very respectable overall numbers during those first two seasons.
In 2008, Lannan went 9-15 with a 3.91 ERA over 182 innings despite a 5.8 K/9IP rate that fell well below the league average. That same year, Blackburn went 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA over 193 1/3 innings despite a 4.5 K/9IP rate that was even further below average.
In 2009, Lannan went 9-13 with a 3.88 ERA over 206 1/3 innings despite a 3.9 K/9IP rate. In Minnesota, Blackburn went 11-11 once again with a 4.03 ERA despite a 4.3 K/9IP rate.
Both pitchers were impressively managing to rack up quality innings despite their elevated contact rates. This year, however, they both have seen their already sub par strikeout rates drop through the floor, and it's no coincidence that both pitchers are seeing their overall performance plummet.
Blackburn and Lannan have been almost identical in their inability to throw the ball past hitters this year. Their K/9IP rates are 2.84 and 2.88, making them the only qualifying pitchers in all of the majors with rates below 3. They've both struck out about 7 percent of the total batters they've faced after striking out 11 percent in their first two seasons.
The results speak for themselves, and boy are they similar:
Blackburn, 2010: 76 IP, 5.80 ERA, 1.63 ERA, .337 BAA
Lannan, 2010: 75 IP, 5.76 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, .327 BAA
Blackburn possesses better control, but Lannan offsets that with a higher ground ball rate. Overall, these two have basically been the same pitcher all year long.
Yesterday, the last-place Nationals demoted Lannan to Double-A.