How Mat Latos Saved His Season

It is easy to forget that Mat Latos is still just 24-years-old. It is also easy, apparently, to overlook how impressive he has been since the second half of June.

Latos started off his tenure in Cincinnati pretty miserably, with a 5.20 ERA in 14 starts. He was getting hit rather hard, and his home run rate escalated. He allowed 16 homers in less than a half season’s worth of starts. The jump was expected, since moving from homer-depressing Petco Park to Great American Ballpark would likely cause any pitcher to give up more home runs. But I imagine there were at least a few people who wondered if Latos was simply a Petco creation.

Since June 18, Latos has done everything to shed that image. In his past 17 starts, Latos has a 2.52 ERA and just eight home runs allowed. Not surprisingly, the Reds went 13-4 in those starts. In those games, Latos pitched fewer than five full innings just once — compared to the three times he missed the five-inning mark in his previous 14 outings. Obviously, something changed.

Most notably, he’s come as close as a pitcher can to ditching his changeup. He’s thrown the pitch about 2% of the time since the beginning of July. Interestingly, rather than going to a secondary pitch, he replaced the change with his fourseam fastball. And that seems to be a strategy he is running with. His fourseamer has seen its frequency increase from 29% to 41% to 46% in June, July and August. He also has moved away from his two-seamer. He now is going with a more traditional power approach with his four seamer as his primary weapon; his two-seamer was thrown just 10 times all of August.

In replacing the changeup against lefties, he’s made his curveball his second-most relied upon option. With hitters hitting just .188 against his curveball this year, and .400 against the changeup, ditching the change and increasing the hook was the right call. The Reds’ staff deserves credit for noticing his changeup issues and making the necessary midseason adjustment.

Essentially, Latos and his coaches simplified his repertoire. And now, both he and the Reds have reaped the benefits of Latos essentially becoming a three-pitch pitcher. For his career, he’s been a fastball-slider pitcher, with his two-seamer, changeup and curveball all thrown at about 10% frequency. Now that he’s altered his repertoire and sequencing in Cincinnati, the Reds have one of the more formidable one-two punches in baseball with Latos and Johnny Cueto.

While we will certainly monitor Latos for the remainder of the season, I’m especially interested to see how he attacks hitters next year. Yu Darvish and Roy Halladay are discussed for having a plethora of pitches from which to choose, but to have a starter like Latos succeed because he stopped throwing his lower quality pitches is something wholly different. Sometimes, simplicity can lead to more success than complexity. And perhaps this is one of those times.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

20 Responses to “How Mat Latos Saved His Season”

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  1. Andrew says:

    latos has adjusted to fix terrible early season performance each season for 3 years now, though this year’s adjustment took longer than those in petco. what do you think accounted for the surges in previous years?

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  2. josh m says:

    Would it be fair to think that the simplified approach could catch up to him once the scouting reports catch up?

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    • John Ford-Griffindor says:

      Plenty of pitchers can do this despite the adage of old scouts. Mat gets great angle on his fastball and late life as well as good velocity. His breaking ball is a legit out pitch. His control/command are great for a power pitcher. So I think he could make it work.

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  3. Anthony says:

    Did playing in San Diego hide the fact that his change-up just wasn’t that good? Or was he just not throwing it as effectively as before?

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  4. Ron says:

    Mat Latos turned his season around by because I dropped him from my fantasy team in a fit of rage and frustration. It’s science. You don’t question science.

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  5. Jared says:

    Don’t forget Ryan Hanigan, who deserves credit for calling the right pitch at the right time and managing the emotional Latos. He has been the unappreciated rock of the Reds pitching staff this year – his catcher ERA of 3.05 is best in the majors (AJ Ellis is 2nd with a 3.40 cERA). He has also caught all 10 of the Reds shutouts, and his caught stealing percentage (48.4%) is highest among qualified catchers, even better than Yadier Molina’s.

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  6. RMR says:

    There were also accusations from Cleveland after that June 18th outing that Latos was tipping his pitches. Perhaps the change up was a primary culprit.

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  7. Daniel says:

    traded Cishek Leake and Furcal for him and Dan Hudson literally right at the end of his rough times…Latos alone made that a great trade. Helped me just barely squeak into the playoffs in a nail-biter last week of the season where I started 5 games back and would have lost in a tie. And then in the first round of the playoffs he gets pulled after 5 2/3 while doing well by Dusty Baker…no QS. And then in his next start, at 110 pitches or so gets left in for the eigth and allows his fourth run…no QS. ended up tying in QS without homefield advantage and because of some crazy rule the overall tie (8 categories) and each individual tie go to the home team so I ended tying in QS and 4-4 in all categories and missing the Finals.

    So Latos is kinda bittersweet to my fantasy team…

    While I’m ranting about my fantasy team…I drafted Chris Carpenter and Ted Lilly…that didn’t go well. Had like 15 players on the DL at one time. But…check out these trades

    Cishek, Leake and Furcal for D. Hudson and Latos

    Buehrle for Nathan

    Olt, S. Miller and Paxton for Moore and Christian Bethancourt

    Markakis for Prado (needed utility help, turned out great)

    and best of all,
    R. Cook, Aaron Sanchez and Yunel Escobar for Rollins (his SBs made a huge impact) Blake Swihart and Max Scherzer.

    Note, this was when Cook had some crazy sub-1 ERA and Scherzer was up above 5. Obviously, I knew these two things wouldn’t keep up.

    I’m sure nobody cares about what I just talked about…but got the necessary link (Latos) so I could rant about my bittersweet season…

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  8. Swfc-dan says:

    Its a good story how Mat’s figured out his problems in Cincy. He was under a lot of pressure after they gave up such good prospects to get him, and I remember his wife getting a lot of abuse on twitter at the time.

    I knew he’d figure it out though. A guy who throws 95 with a filthy slider is always gonna turn things round sooner than later. Kudos to the Reds staff for getting him to ditch his change, and kudos to us fantasy owners who traded little for him midseason.

    Looking forward to his start vs the Crew. He flat out demolished them last time he faced them at GA ballpark.

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  9. Rally says:

    “With hitters hitting just .188 against his curveball this year, and .400 against the changeup,”

    Is that figured just on the final pitch of an AB? So if he throws fastball-fastball-curve-fastball-fastball-change and the batter hits a single, it counts as a hit against the changeup?

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  10. Lex Logan says:

    On Fox Sports Ohio today they showed side-by-side videos of Latos in early and later June. He had been holding his hands up high before pitching, and he switched to a lower position. The analyst thought it might have to do with tipping his pitches — which is basically what Cleveland said when Latos accused them of stealing signs. So there may have been more than one adjustment to turn his season around. And next year, when he struggles in April as always, we can play this song over again.

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