After a scare to start his 2011 season—a trip to the DL for shoulder bursitis—Mat Latos was able to notch his second straight season of 30 starts. He has topped 180 innings in both seasons and has established himself as one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Pitching his first two seasons in San Diego has labeled some of his ability as manufactured by PETCO Park, but his ability to strike out hitters and limit his walks look like something he could do anywhere.
That idea will be put to the test afetr his move to Cincinnati this offseason. In San Diego, Latos could get away with some mistakes on account of a home park that decreased home runs 41 percent against left handers, according to StatCorner.com. In Cincinnati he’ll have to deal with a park that inflates home runs 20 percent for left-handed hitters and 33 percent for right handers. His career HR/FB has been abnormally low in San Diego at 8 percent and should increase at least to a league average 11 percent.
Will all this change affect his ability to be an effective pitcher and lead the Reds pitching staff? I’m sure it will, but that doesn’t mean Latos won’t be an elite pitcher. The past two seasons, Latos has had one of the best K/BB rates in baseball. He ranks 15th during that time with a K/BB of 3.34. That is a welcome addition to Cincinnati, where only two other pitchers have posted a K/BB over three in the past 11 seasons. Aaron Harang and Mike Leake are the only ones in the 21st century to do that in a Reds uniform.
Latos is not a groundball pitcher, but that’s not to say he is a flyball pitcher either. He is fairly neutral pitcher with a 1.03 GB/FB rate. This change in stadium along with giving up 200 fly balls each year should result in Latos giving up six extra home runs if he has a league average HR/FB in Great American Ballpark. That is going to increase his ERA by about 0.4 runs. This is represented by xFIP and SIERA, which are 3.51 and 3.48 respectively, while his FIP stands at 3.28.
All this assumption and projection would assume that Latos is going to stay neutral and experience a similar output in 2012. His ability to control walks at Double-A speaks of someone who could still get better and walk fewer hitters in 2012.
In 2010, Latos displayed a 94 mph fastball, but in 2011 his velocity averaged only 93. Only a small change, but we know that these small changes can be damaging as well as trouble in the future. While looking at Latos’ PITCHf/x new player cards at BrooksBaseball.net I noticed a more troublesome trend than his velocity.
|Latos’ horizontal release point|
As you can see above, Latos’ release point has changed each season. The good news is his vertical has not changed significantly, but the question is why the large year-to-year change in his release point that is closer and closer to his body. Maybe he is simply standing further to the first base side of the mound. Another possibility is that the Padres attempted to change his delivery to keep him healthier. Both those options are better than the last, which says he is compensating for any pain in his arm. Since this doesn’t involve vertical drop, I don’t think this is the case, but we shouldn’t rule anything out.
W L IP ERA WAR Pecota 12 11 186 3.69 3.7(WARP) Oliver 14 8 210 3.25 5.0
That type of season projected by Oliver would make Latos one of the great pitchers in Reds history. Only four Cincinnati pitchers ever have totaled an fWAR greater than 5.0. That list includes Harang, Mario Soto, Jose Rijo and Danny Jackson.
Latos helps make the Reds a contender in the NL Central and at 24 years old with only two years in the majors, he is ready to help them for awhile. There is some trepidation in moving any pitcher out of PETCO Park and into any other stadium, but Latos has the skill and, the Reds hope, the health to overcome the change and dominate in Cincinnati.