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2015 Miami Marlins Season Review: Mat Latos

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Mat Latos had a not-terrible first half disguised with an awful ERA, and was then subsequently traded before his recovery could be completed in full.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Needless to say, when the Miami Marlins acquired Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds for Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach, the Fish were expecting more from the south Florida native than what they got. They thought they received a solid second starter who could help back up Henderson Alvarez and anchor the rotation before Jose Fernandez returned, and they had some reason to believe that. After all, Latos had been consistently good for years with the San Diego Padres and the Reds. However, there were concerns that the season-long injury problems with Latos were the cause for his drop in velocity and subsequent decreased effectiveness in 2014.

Those concerns turned out to be right.

PLAYER IP K% BB% ERA FIP AVG WAR
Mat Latos 88 1/3 21.2 6.7 4.48 3.41 0.7

It might be difficult to understand the concept of Mat Latos having pitched reasonably well for the Marlins in 2015 given the way he started his season. He threw 2/3 of an inning in his first and gave up seven runs along the way, which forever tainted his performances the rest of the time in south Florida. For most fans, it is hard to erase that disgusting first impression.

However, after that awful first start, Latos did pitch better. He posted a 4.71 ERA and a 3.34 FIP from April 13 to May 21, which was when he ended up on the disabled list with right knee inflammation. During that span, he did a reasonable job of striking out hitters, whiffing 19.8 percent of batters faced while walking 7.7 percent of them. If you look at those numbers and consider pitchers with similar strikeouts and walks in a full season, you see names like Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, and, well, DeSclafani himself! None of those pitchers had a year as bad as Latos's was described, but much of Latos's issues were not tied to things that he could control well.

Indeed, when you look at his season overall in Miami, you see that it closely resembled the years he had in Cincinnati in many ways. Hitters were not smashing the ball harder against him; he posted the same soft-hit and hard-hit ball rates that he did last year in Cincinnati, and those hard-hit rates were the same as the ones he had throughout his career. His .297 BABIP indicates that he got a reasonable defensive contribution for himself. The only problem was the timing of his struggles, which appeared to occur more often while men were on base. For the second year in a row, his strikeouts and FIP were worse when runners were on base than they were when the bases were empty. This appears to be the only reason why Latos's numbers suffered early.

Of course, the velocity problems had been occurring in the last two years as well and probably were playing a role. However, after Latos's DL stint, his velocity seemed drastically improved, and so did his performance. When he came back from the DL on July 13, he was throwing monster heat en route to an 11-strikeout game against the Colorado Rockies. Before the DL stay, he was throwing his fastball at just 91.5 mph according to Brooks Baseball. After the DL stint, his seven starts with the Marlins yielded a fastbtall velocity of 92.9 mph, almost a 1.5-mph difference in speed.

The results showed.

LATOS, 2015 FB VELO (MPH) K% BB% ERA FIP
Pre-velocity 91.5 18.8 8.3 6.12 3.58
Post-velocity 92.9 23.9 5.0 2.96 3.33

The FIP looks improved, and the ERA is drastically better with the increased velocity. It is likely that the combination of mere regression to the mean and a return in velocity after better healing were already getting Latos back on track physically. As a result, the numbers looked even better by the end of his time in Miami. His 4.48 ERA is nothing to write home about, but it was a far cry from his disastrous pre-injury 6.12 mark, and his FIP continued to be reasonably impressive.

In total, his season was not an abject loss like most Marlins fans initially suspected. A full 180-inning campaign may have been worth 1.4 wins based on the average of those three metrics, and it is far more likely that Latos was closer to the higher end of those numbers than the lower end. Baseball-Reference's WAR figures use actual runs and discount defensive totals, so it gives pitchers marks (or demerits) for their own sequencing troubles. It is likely that Baseball Prospectus (which has Latos probably higher than the season-total 0.7 WARP) or FanGraphs have a more accurate answer for his win totals in 2015.

Either way, the Marlins rightfully traded Latos before the deadline, as they were never considering re-signing him after such a mixed campaign. And of course, after the trade, he subsequently began struggling again and fell apart enough to be a non-factor for any playoff team on either side of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Latos trade was a failure in the end, even if Latos played better than it appeared. He still failed to meet expectations and the Marlins have to be disappointed in hindsight.