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Friday, July 11, 2014

Should we worry about Mat Latos?

Outside of his ERA, Mat Latos's numbers
are concerning.
Photo Credit: SD Dirk
In my series preview today at Red Reporter, I noted that Mat Latos's season numbers are a little bit concerning:
I wonder if we should worry a little bit about Mat Latos?  His fastball velocity is down 2 mph compared to prior years, he's not striking guys out, and he's allowing a lot of fly balls.  About the only thing he is doing well is avoiding the walk.  It could be that he's still not up to full strength after dealing with so many injury troubles earlier in the year.  It's a small sample, so I dunno, but I have my eyebrow raised.

Here's his line at FanGraphs.  Sorry for the size, but I wanted to show the whole table.  Click on it to make it bigger.

Everything comes with small sample size warnings.  His ERA looks good.  But everything else is well off pace.  He's showing a 2.4-mph drop in his fastball velocity thus far.  His strikeout rate is way down, his ground ball rate is down, and his swinging strike rate is way down from his career norms (7% vs. 10%!).  The only positive thus far is his walk rate, which has been very good.

I'm less concerned about the strikeout and walk rates.  Sometimes, I think I've seen pitchers show increases or decreases in both rates over small sample sizes.  That might be about their approach to pitching: maybe guys are trying to "fill up the zone" over a stretch of 5-10 starts, and as a result are getting more contact and avoiding walks.  If the Luck Dragons have been going Latos's way, he might be content to pitch to contact not go for the strikeout.  When the winds change, the might try to miss bats a bit more.

The velocity drop worries me, though.  Here it is graphically:

That's a big drop in fastball velocity.  And it's been consistent in each of his five starts this year.  This is not a matter of small sample sizes (at least not in terms of measurement--I'm not saying it's predictive).

Latos did not have a normal offseason due to his elbow surgery, and missed most of spring training due to the torn meniscus in his knee.  He didn't even have a "normal" rehabilitation due to forearm tightness and the calf issue that flared up in his second-to-last rehab start.  For all of these reasons, it makes sense that he is not at his best this season.  And that means I'm not particularly worried about him long-term.  But in the near-term, I'm a bit concerned about how long it will take for him to get back up to speed--or whether that is possible during the regular season.

The Reds need a strong Mat Latos in the rotation, and I'm not sure that they really have that right now.