Rotoprofessor Analyizes Mat Latos: Fact or Fiction?

Aug 5, 2009

Written by
Eric Stashin the Rotoprofessor

Mat Latos
Image courtesy of Icon SMI

Mat Latos is now four starts into his major league career and the overall numbers reflect a pitching sensation that owners should be flocking to.  Truth be told, he has the talent to back up that type of statement, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  There are some peripheral red flags that owners have to be aware of before dubbing Latos the latest rookie craze.

First, let’s look at his statistics thus far:

3 Wins
23.2 Innings
2.66 ERA
0.89 WHIP
16 Strikeouts (6.08 K/9)
6 Walks (2.28 BB/9)
.165 BABIP

The BABIP is the biggest number that should jump out at you and it is screaming for a major regression.  He’s clearly been pitching to exceptional luck thus far, which sooner or later is going to run out.  Keep in mind that the best number in 2009 is Jarrod Washburn’s .249 (and that was prior to last night’s beating).

However, Latos has not yet realized his potential in the strikeout department.  In the minor leagues this season he had posted a K/9 of 8.96 and for his career he’s at 10.40.  Needless to say, as he settles in and gets acclimated to the tougher competition, his strikeout rate should rise.

Part of what he needs to do is mix his pitches a little bit more.  He’s currently throwing his fastball (which is averaging 94.7 mph) just over 72% of the time.  It doesn’t matter how electric a fastball you have, major league hitters have the ability to hit it.  You need to change speeds and mix things in to keep hitters off balance, which will generate more swings and misses.

It would not be surprising to see him in the high 7s to low 8s, so while his BABIP will go up, there will be less balls even put into play, meaning it will not have as drastic an impact on his WHIP.  Obviously, he’s going to start giving up more hits and his WHIP is going to regress along with it, but it may not be as bad as it could be.

How about his strand rate, currently at 100.0%?  No, that’s not a typo.  He has had a perfect strand rate in his first four major league starts.  Does anyone expect him to come close to matching this type of number?  Would anyone even expect him to post an LOB% of around 80%?

What’s also hurt him is his HR/FB, currently at 14.7% while pitching in Petco Park, a park that helps to suppress home runs.  In the minor leagues this season he had posted a HR/9 of 0.12, compared to his 1.90 in the majors.  There’s no doubt that he’s going to improve in this regard, which should help to offset some of the luck he’s had, but not completely.

An ERA regression is very likely, but from a 21-year old who never pitched in Triple-A, that should not be very surprising.

Latos is a rookie pitcher, which we all know by now means that inconsistency is part of the equation.  He has clearly gotten off to a strong start, though luck has played a gigantic role in it.  That is not likely to continue, so how he adjusts and handles himself is going to be a key part in his development (though, he may not have too many starts left as he is coming up on an innings limit).

His next start comes at home against the Mets, a start that I would consider using him for.  After that, it’s a date with Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals as he takes his show on the road.  No matter how he fares against the Mets, there is just too much risk to use him for that start.

What does everyone else think?  How good do you think Latos will be the rest of the way?

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