The Miami Marlins acquired Mat Latos in an offseason deal in the hopes that he would fill a top-rotation spot. However, the Mat Latos of before the 2014 season appears to be long gone. Latos suffered through elbow and knee injuries last year, and when he did play, he displayed a noticeable lack of velocity. This has led to speculation that, despite solid numbers last season, he has degraded as a starting pitcher and will likely be worse than he has been in the past. Here at Fish Stripes, we have him pegged as a 2.6-win pitcher for next season, which is far less than what he once was just two years ago. Velocity plays a big role in run prevention, and if Latos's has dropped, you can expect a worsening performance.
In order to get a better sense of what the new Latos looks like, we can examine his work from 2014, when the fastball velocity was first noticed. Latos threw only 102 1/3 innings last season, but can we gather something from those innings and formulate a new scouting report for him?
Pitch F/X: The Basics
Latos works multiple pitches in his arsenal, beginning with the one everyone is talking about: the fastball. Both two- and four-seam fastball varieties lost velocity from 2013 to 2014.
That represents a two-mph drop in velocity that almost undoubtedly hurt his effectiveness. Latos's fastball was not accompanied with any movement changes on his pitches; both the fastballs appear to have the same movement as they did the previous year. His sinker does not sink much at all, but rather displays more aggressive break towards right-handed hitters than the four-seamer. Oddly enough, despite the name of it being a "sinker," Latos uses it often against left-handed hitters, especially on the first pitch. He throws the four-seamer, which should be a more neutral platoon pitch, more towards the righties.
The other interesting, less discussed change in repertoire is his adoption of a splitter last season. After tinkering with it a little in 2013, he upped its usage to 12 percent in 2014, using it as a primary replacement for his ineffective changeup, which he abandoned entirely. It also ate into the usage of his slider, which once again fell out of favor after once being his most recognized pitch as a starter.
The reasoning for a decreased use of his slider could be injury-related. The slider is well-known as an elbow-eating pitch, and Latos did struggle with elbow inflammation late last year, requiring an offseason stem-cell therapy for assistance. Interestingly enough, this recent FSN Florida article makes mention of a number of pitches recently thrown in Latos's simulated game last week.
On Monday, he threw all of his pitches — fastball, changeup, curveball and splitter. The 27-year-old righty also got to work out of the stretch and cover first on a play.
His new splitter was mentioned. His abandoned change was mentioned. But his slider was suspiciously absent. Could he be abandoning that pitch in 2015?
Photo by Joy R Absalon, USA TODAY Sports
Pitch F/X: Performance Metrics
The limited sample gives us some difficulty in making conclusions, but you can see some of the problems associated with Latos's fastball. In total, he used fastball-style pitches in 65.5 percent of his pitches, yet the pitch does very little to impress. Both four- and two-seam varieties were placed in the strike zone reasonably well, as expected. However, neither induced swings and misses at any acceptable rate. Furthermore, this is in stark contrast to the rate of whiffs on those same pitches before the 2014 season.
This is a huge difference in whiffs from the 2011 to 2013 seasons and the 2014 campaign. Latos had established a velocity baseline of around 93 mph at that time, but the drastic drop down to 91 mph ate up a huge amount of effectiveness in the pitch last season. To get a sense of how bad a nine percent whiff rate is on a fastball, consider that the "flat" fastball Nathan Eovaldi threw at 96 mph garnered a 14 percent whiff rate since 2013, and the sinking 94-mph heater that whiff-less Henderson Alvarez throws got a 10.8 percent whiff rate, while his four-seamer has a near-17 percent whiff rate.
Latos's fastball appears to be shot in terms of effectiveness, at least at this velocity. His other pitches do not appear impressive either. The slider that was getting 47 percent whiffs just two years ago was down to 29 percent last season while being similarly difficult to place in the strike zone. The curveball seems like a decent third pitch to complement his out pitch, akin to what a typical pitcher's third-pitch changeup would do.
The only interesting piece of work from last season appears to be his splitter, which actually looks like a reasonable pitch. The splitter owned the highest whiff rate at 39 percent, and hitters took hacks at it at an incredible rate. A rate of 70 percent swings would produce plenty of swinging strikes and balls in play for the Marlins' defense, and getting balls into play helps feed the team's excellent outfield defense. If Latos can put the 87 mph pitch in the zone more often, he could have a nice complementary pitch to replace the slider if it has lost its effectiveness.
Once again, all grades to pitch types handed out in the 20-80 scouting scale, with 50 as the average and each ten-point difference representing one standard deviation.
Fastballs (40): Latos's fastball was awful last season, and that is absolutely undeniable. If this is the picture of his fastball coming up in 2015, he is going to have to depend on other pitches to help supplement his game, because neither variety was very effective. Both of his fastballs failed to get whiffs after being at least average in that department, and hitters bashed those pitches harder than usual. The velocity drop really killed Latos's heater.
Slider (50): The pitch still gets whiffs, and it is impossibly difficult to make good contact on it. However, Latos is throwing it less often, and it has appeared to decline in functionality since his elbow concerns from last year. Latos has dropped his slider usage over time, indicating that he may lack confidence or health for the pitch to work.
Splitter (55): This looks like an effective pitch. Latos got plenty of swings and misses on it, and hitters were desperate to try and put it into play. He may have to find a better balance between putting it in the strike zone and keeping it as tough to hit as it currently is; stray too far into the zone and the pitch may get more hittable, but go the other way and hitters may not find it appealing to swing at.
Curveball (50): The curve looks like a reasonable tertiary offering. Latos is getting good middle-ground potential for the pitch, which would help him assist the splitter's or slider's out-pitch status. Without the changeup and with a declining fastball usefulness, it is important to have a platoon-neutral pitch like his curve appears to be.