While watching the most recent Mat Latos outing, Dick Enberg and Mark “Mud” Grant remarked about not having pitch speeds available during spring training games. They had a bit of concern, or question, about Latos and his spring struggles.
Two things popped into my mind. First, they’re sitting in Peoria, Ariz., home of one of the two available PITCHf/x installations in the Cactus League. Second, I asked what kind of numbers Latos was posting, in both 2010 and 2011 tune-up games.
While I was digging about, making sure I had separated the slightly slower two-seam fastballs (AKA sinkers) from the four-seam variety, Latos was scratched from his final spring start. This development also raised two thoughts. First, there goes his Opening Day slot and, second, time to really look at those numbers.
To the first point, Tim Stauffer will get the start on March 31. To see what was going on with Latos, I decided to plot fastball speeds in sequence, over time, for any of the games available for Latos in spring 2010 and 2011. The picture is incomplete: 2010 covers his first three spring outings, 2011 the same plus his fifth and last. In 2010, Latos skipped his fourth spring game due to elbow issues. In 2011, his fourth outing came in a minor league game (and went poorly).
That doesn’t look good, does it? A few things to consider. This is spring training, not midseason. That said, a decline in speed is not what one would expect, cold weather aside. Measuring a pitcher across multiple games always brings calibration changes in PITCHf/x into play. In this case, all of the Cactus League games in question took place in Peoria, which should minimize such effects.
What’s strange is Latos reported no problems during his last start, but encountered the first sign of trouble a little bit down the road:
Latos pitched against the White Sox on Monday and allowed three runs on eight hits in four innings. He complained of a sore shoulder two days later, and his normal side session was canceled.
To be clear, Latos reported no problems on Monday. Far from it:
“Monday, I felt the best I’ve felt all spring,” Latos said. “I have no idea, it’s weird … bewilderment is more of a word. It felt stiff [Wednesday]. It was a pain where it felt weak to lift my arm.”
The change happened seemingly while he slept:
“It’s literally night and day,” Latos said. “Yesterday, it felt like everything locked and as if there was a huge piece of glass or something sharp inside my shoulder. There was no strength to lift it.”
Latos will throw again on Tuesday after having some pain on Friday. So far, performance and the-days-after-pain have aligned. The diagnosis of inflamed bursa sac may consistent with the observed progression, but that’s beyond this author’s realm.
What hasn’t aligned are the words of Latos. He felt fine on Monday. But maybe these few words from a scout line-up with the other clues, further isolating Latos’s own assessment:
I saw Mat Latos twice. I’d be concerned, man.
I love a good mystery. Let’s consider this: Mat Latos felt perfectly fine, and was perfectly fine, on March 21, 2011. The difference was the weather. In 2010, Latos pitched with game time temperatures of 64, 57 and 75 in his PITCHf/x games. In 2011, his four PITCHf/x games checked in at 69, 76, 80 and … wait for it … 52.
According to analysis conducted by Mike Fast, this change in temperature could account for some, but not all of the change in speed observed for Latos. Fast will have more on this subject at Baseball Prospectus later this week. Meanwhile, pay close attention to Tuesday’s reports on Latos.