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Mat Latos's performance is improving for the Marlins

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The Miami Marlins did not get the best of Mat Latos in his first start, but his subsequent performances have been improved.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Needless to say, Mat Latos did not get off to a great start in Miami for the Marlins. Latos's first start was a massive clunker, as he was hit very hard, walked two batters, and gave up seven runs in two-thirds of an inning. It does not get a whole lot worse than that in terms of debuts in a Marlins uniform.

However, as the Marlins wax and wane in performance in all aspects of the game, Latos is at least putting up a credible pitching performance now that the debut jitters have passed. While there is no indication that he is "back" to being the star pitcher he was two years ago, Latos at least looks like a competent pitcher in his last two outings. In games against the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, Latos threw nine innings and struck out 10 batters while walking four and giving up one home run in that frame. The total package has lead to a 4.00 ERA and a 3.56 FIP during those two games.

Now, two games means just as little as one start, but it was at least encouraging to see Latos actually get outs. How has his stuff progressed?

Velocity Still Down

One thing we know for sure: Latos's velocity remains unchanged.

You can see where his velocity sat for all of last year, according to Brooks Baseball. At the tail end, you can see where it is sitting now in three games with Miami. The lines do not appear all that different, indicating that Latos did not regain any lost velocity from back in 2013.

This was expected heading into this season, as pitchers who lose miles per hour often do not gain them back. This problem was always going to be present, so the fact that it has reared its ugly head in 2015 is no surprise. The question, as always, was what was Mat Latos going to do to resolve this issue.

Usage

Has Latos switched up some usage early in the year? Take a look at his pitch percentages from his first three starts:

Trajectory and Movement - from 01/01/2015 to 01/01/2016

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 73 38.22% 92.22 0.30 10.77 -0.02 7.33
Sinker 46 24.08% 91.94 -3.67 10.66 -0.11 7.28
Change 8 4.19% 85.04 -6.31 9.60 -0.32 7.17
Slider 16 8.38% 84.28 2.51 0.11 -0.54 7.03
Curve 12 6.28% 78.07 3.28 -7.22 -0.47 7.01
Split 36 18.85% 82.29 0.16 -1.62 -0.23 7.06

And compare them to last year:

Trajectory and Movement - from 01/01/2014 to 01/01/2015

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Fourseam 558 36.52% 91.86 0.73 10.50 0.05 7.31
Sinker 443 28.99% 90.90 -3.01 10.15 -0.09 7.27
Change 1 0.07% 78.29 -1.78 7.85 -0.94 7.17
Slider 215 14.07% 86.33 2.42 3.43 -0.33 7.14
Curve 124 8.12% 76.94 3.63 -4.84 -0.39 7.09
Split 187 12.24% 81.07 -0.44 -0.49 -0.06 7.11

This looks very similar, but I think it is worth pointing out that the early usage of his splitter has increased since last year, and it has come mostly at the expense of his slider. If you recall from our Pitch F/X scouting report from before the season, you might remember that we discussed his increasing splitter use and pointed out that it was his best-performing pitch among his breaking-pitch offerings. Latos got more swings and more whiffs on the pitch than he did with his other breaking pitches, making it far more effective than his slider. He seems to have noticed that as well, as he is turning more to the splitter than before.

Whiffs Working?

Has this slight shift earned him whiffs? Has the fastball been able to get by hitters? In the first game of the year, Latos got one swinging strike in his 38 pitches. Since then, the numbers have gotten better. In both the Braves and Mets games, Latos threw 75 to 80 pitches and induced eight whiffs, leading to an overall 10 percent swinging strike rate. The offenses listed here are not the most impressive, but given how ugly Latos's first start came off, it was nice to see hitters get fooled by him.

The splitter was the primary culprit; Latos got seven total swings and misses in the last two starts on that pitch. Overall, it has a 42 percent whiff rate early on in the season, and that rate is at just under 50 percent in the last two games. Latos is still using the slider and curveball to get the occasional whiff, but it appears the splitter has taken over as the out-pitch.

This is reflected in his choice of when he uses the pitch. Against right-handers, Latos has turned to the splitter 26 percent of the time with two strikes versus using his slider just 13 percent of the time. This comparison is even worse with lefties, as southpaws saw Latos's splitter a whopping 48 percent of the time with two strikes. This trend had started last year, with the splitter taking over as the most used pitch with two strikes, but it has gotten more extreme early this year.

However, the fastball has not been bad, surprisingly enough. The four-seamer has gotten six whiffs in the games he has played thus far. The whiff rate is at 17 percent so far in this young season. While that is not an eye-popping number, it is more than acceptable for a fastball, particularly one that has lost some of its old "oomph."

What does this all tell us about Latos? It is difficult to say one thing for sure. Chances are all this means is that he was not as horrific as his first start, but that he also is not the pitcher from 2013. Much of that we already knew. However, Latos is going to be a fascinating pitcher to track this season, and his early season performance already has some wrinkles that are different from last year. He merits continued viewing.