For the past year and a half the Padres have ransacked the continent looking for major league starting pitching. Mark Prior’s caviar didn’t work out, Walter Silva failed, and numerous trades and bargain bin acquisitions netted them with little to show thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness. When all else failed, the Padres turned to 21-year-old Mat Latos. A draft and follow selection from 2006 out of Broward Community College in Florida, Latos shot through the Padres system, reaching Double-A for nine starts before jumping to the majors.
Latos’ performance thus far has been mixed. His ERA and win-loss record reflect a rookie sensation and the closest thing the Padres have to a phenom. A FIP over 5 does not. The relative good news for Padres fans is an unsustainably high home run per fly ball ratio of 16.7%. Fly balls are a common result when batters make contact with Latos’ pitches, but he’s pitching in PETCO and there’s no reason to believe he’s more prone to a higher HR/FB% than any other fly ball pitcher.
When watching Latos, the first thing you’ll pick up on is his outstanding fastball velocity. Pitchfx data has him touching 97.9 MPH with an average velocity of 94.6. He brings the fire each and every time out. The pitch buzzes in to righties and at those speeds seems destined to break a few bats. Right now he’s using it about three-fourths of the time, with a slider and change thrown in the rest of the time.
What’s interesting about Latos to date is his platoon split. Small sample size caveat applies heavily, but righties are hitting .091/.118/.273 against him while lefties hit .273/.360/.545. Remarkably lefties almost have a higher on-base percentage than righties do OPS. So what does Latos do against lefties, or rather, what doesn’t he do? Generally you hear about young right-handed pitchers not working in to lefties or simply being unable to without inciting a fire. As the graph below shows, he favors away, but he seems willing to go inside on lefties.
Of course being willing and being able are two different things. I took all 38 ‘inside’ pitches (described as further ‘in’ than the middle of the plate) out of his 110 pitches total against lefties and looked at the results. Here’s how they tallied up:
18 balls (2 in the dirt)
3 called strikes
3 swinging strikes
2 fly balls (neither were homers)
Obviously this is a wider slice of the zone than you would like, and basing the idea that Latos can indeed go inside with success off 30-something pitchers is flawed. Up until now though, Latos’ problems exist away against lefties, not inside.
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