The Miami Marlins got a sweet shutout victory last night at the hands of Mat Latos, who is soaring after his initial injury struggles. After an early part of the season during which he could not muster any velocity on his fastball, Latos spent time on the disabled list and returned with a vengeance, having dominated hitters since coming back and pushed his ERA and FIP well below where they were at the start.
This has only increased interest in Latos at the trade deadline. Miami has interest in sending the righty veteran because he is only signed through the end of this season; Latos has a chance to enter free agency for the first time this coming offseason. As late as a month ago, getting anything of value for him may have been a pipe dream, and Miami's best option would have either been to sell him for Dan Haren-like scraps or keep him and hope he rebuilds his value enough that he is worth an arbitration offer and compensation pick. After just six starts back from injury, things have changed dramatically, and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays are expressing interest and scouting Latos ahead of the deadline.
Just how good is Latos, and how much can he fetch?
The value of Mat Latos right now is largely based on this following table.
|LATOS, 2015||FB VELO (MPH)||K%||BB%||ERA||FIP|
After Latos returned from his injury stint on the DL, his velocity drastically changed. His fastball jumped about 1.5 mph, and the subsequent changes are noticeable. Hitters are currently being confounded by the added velocity, which is making everything else look better. The 24.4 percent strikeout rate and 5.8 percent walk rate are more reminiscent of the 2010 and 2011 Latos of the Padres than anyone we have seen on the Reds and Marlins. His whiff rate on fastballs has changed from 13 percent before the velocity switch to around 19 percent after the switch. Combine that with stable numbers on his good secondary offerings (along with increased velocity from those pitches as well) and you have a starter who is suddenly far more effective.
The entire streak is unlikely to last; Latos was throwing around 93 mph for several season with the Reds with lesser numbers than his six-start run has shown. However, six starts with a real change in something tangible and subsequent numbers should be enough to convince suitors that, at the very least, Latos has returned to the form most teams expected of him before the drop in velocity in 2014.
Of course, before the velocity change, Latos was already sneaky effective in terms of FIP, having earned at least average marks thanks to reasonable strikeout and walk rates. The numbers were not bad before, but they have significantly improved now. If you look at his season as a whole, it still looks fairly effective. Thanks to this resurgent run, his strikeout rate is up to 21.3 percent, while his walk rate has stayed a career-rate of 7.2 percent. In fact, Latos's current numbers almost match up exactly with his career marks, showing further proof that the big righty is back to normal. Much of what has happened this year is due to poor sequencing issues, as Latos has only stranded 65 percent of his runners allowed. This would have ranked third to last among qualified starters.
The Trade Value
Latos is pitching so well that his value is changing as we speak, but a projection system should be able to objectively judge how well we would expect him to pitch. ZiPS sees him putting up a 3.53 ERA going forward with a very similar FIP. Considering that this is close to what he is doing now in terms of FIP, this is a reasonable expectation given some regression to the mean. This ERA is similar to the expected numbers for guys like Clay Buchholz and Andrew Cashner, reaasonable starting pitchers and guys who themselves would be targets for trade deadline deals if they were available.
The problem with Latos is that he only has this season left in terms of eligibility before he becomes a free agent. Any team acquiring him knows that they are getting only half a season and the rights to negotiate with him if they so choose. Given the in-season trade, an acquiring team does not even have a chance at a compensatory pick. Latos for the next half-season is expected to be a one-win pitcher, which would be worth around $7 million in the open market. However, given that there is only about 41 percent of the season left, an acquiring team would have to pick up the tab on about $4 million of the remaining $9.4 million owed to Latos. Therefore, Latos's trade value sits at just about $3 million.
If you will recall, that is about what Dan Haren would have been worth given Haren's free salary. That means that Latos, even with his improvements, may fetch just a minor C-prospect. However, the Fish could offer to take on the rest of his salary and make that value closer to $7 million. If they do, the team can probably get a fringy B or B+ prospect closer to a top-100 talent.
Take a look at the Blue Jays as an example. Miami might squeeze out someone like Angel Perdomo or Matt Boyd without paying up salary. However, if the team does offer money, it could reach a little higher and get a better ceiling prospect like outfielder Dwight Smith or pitcher Matt Smoral. It is up to them to decide if they want to pay for better talent in return for a sunk cost in 2015. Either way, however, Latos has significantly improved his chances this season to be a useful part at the trade deadline, and each start he makes only inspires more confidence.