Mat Latos: Velocity, Repertoire, and Command

In 2011, Mat Latos emerged from April with an 0-4 record and an earned run average near five. Even though he’s wearing a different uniform, things must be feeling eerily familiar right now.

After three starts, Latos finds himself winless with his new team and currently possesses an unseemly 8.22 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. Yes, the ERA predictors suggest Latos hasn’t been quite this bad and no, he hasn’t had much in the way of good luck on batted balls. But his command has been off, his repertoire has seemingly changed, and and after his last effort versus the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up eight earned runs over 5.2 innings pitched, there were some serious concerns in Cincinnati about their prize off season acquisition.

But we’ve seen this act before from Latos. In fact, a fairly slow start to the season has rather become his modus operandi, for better or worse:

In both 2010 and 2011, his xFIP in April was, relatively speaking, pretty bad by Latos standards. Although the results each month obviously fluctuate, the trend line is pretty clear — in both years, he tended to achieve better results as the season wore on. In 2012, his xFIP stands at 4.80, which is far and away the worst start to the season he’s had in his career, but there’s not only reason to be optimistic because of his history, but because of his velocity.

Early season results as poor as Latos has demonstrated typically send us running for velocity information — and often times, there’s evidence that the fastball is suffering. But after seeing a velocity drop from 94 mph on his average 2010 fastball down to 93 in 2011, Latos actually appears to have pretty great life thus far in 2012. He is averaging 93.2 mph on his fastball, which is not only better than 2011 overall, but a full mph faster than April of 2011. And in fact, there’s been a notable increase in velocity over his first three starts – even touching better than 97 mph in his last start:

FBv Max
Start #1 91.5 94.2
Start #2 92.8 95.2
Start #3 93.8 97.2

Historically, Latos has been the kind of starter whose velocity improves pretty significantly throughout the season. Considering his average fastball was near 94 mph in his last start, he could see a return to 2010 levels, when he had a career high swinging strike rate of 11%:

While Latos is clearly throwing hard enough, his command and location that have simply not been there. Nothing demonstrated that more perfectly than the at bat by Carlos Beltran on April 18th. In the second inning, Latos and the Reds were already down 3-0 and Latos started Carlos Beltran off with a pitch in the dirt, and then followed with the following three pitches:

A quick note for anyone that isn’t interested in clicking on the images to see location — both pitches are fastballs and both are pretty darn close to the middle of the plate, knee high. So the count is 1-2, there’s a man on third base, one would speculate that he would then go to his best pitch, his slider. Instead he threw this pitch:

For video of the home run, go here. But he basically threw three straight meatballs in the exact same spot to Carlos Beltran. It’s not a huge surprise what Beltran did with the last one.

Why three straight fastballs? I’m not sure, but what’s also pretty clear is that Latos has altered his repertoire since coming over to Cincinnati. In his brief career, he has typically used his slider about 27% of the time. It has historically been his best pitch at just over a run above average per 100 pitches in both 2010 and 2011 and generating a whiff rate at about 24%. But he’s dropped his usage of the slider by about 10% in 2012, with increased reliance on his change:

2010 2011 2012
FF 39.50% 44.1% 39.7%
SL 26.50% 26.8% 16.8%
CH 11.50% 6.4% 16.1%
CU 10.9% 10.3%
FC 9.6%
FT 21.90% 11.8% 7.5%

In addition to the change in repertoire, there has been a noticeable change in his release point from this year to last. To keep things simple, here are two snapshots – one from 2012, and one from a start in September, 2011:

The above is his last start in 2012, and below is a start from late last season:

His release point was quite a bit more upright in this particular start than it has been in 2012, and using the same starts – the movement on the pitches is quite a bit different. The first chart is 2012, the second is 2011.

He’s getting more horizontal movement on his fastball, far less movement overall on his slider, and at this point the result has been a lower swinging strike rate and a much higher walk rate than we’ve come to expect from Mat Latos. With the reduction of the use of the slider and the modification in his release point, it could be the Cincy is trying to avoid injury to Latos, but he obviously can’t be successful with walk rate of 11.1% (versus lefties, a BB% of 16.1%).

We are of course within the dreaded window of small sample sizes, but with Latos there’s good news and bad news thus far. His velocity is up considerably in April, and he has a history of righting the proverbial ship after relatively slow starts to the season. However, while the coaching may have found a way to add some velocity to his fastball, there may be a time that they need to look at finding a happy medium between his mechanics, his velocity, and his location. If his effectiveness continues to suffer, it might also be time to see a few more sliders.

His next three to four starts should be very interesting to track not only his velocity, but his repertoire and command. For the Reds to contend, they need the old Mat Latos to show up quickly.

Many thanks to Chris Benson for the images of the Beltran at-bat.



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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.


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Lee
Member
Lee
4 years 4 months ago

I wondered how many of his starts were at home, and saw it was only one. I think he’s going to continue to get lit up at home, but it doesn’t explain his road losses. Other than the fact that he’s a tool. I predicted Mr. Latos to implode this year…so far, so good.

James Gentile
Member
4 years 4 months ago

what?

Graham
Guest
Graham
4 years 4 months ago

I say give every pitcher who struggles in April and is not named Tim Lincecum the benefit of the doubt. (Mind the sarchasm.)

trevor steel
Guest
trevor steel
4 years 4 months ago

If you read the first sentence you would understand that he has always had trouble in April. Why is he a tool? Do you know him?

Graham
Guest
Graham
4 years 4 months ago

I believe the OP is referring to a few incidents of what might be considered churlish behavior in Mr. Latos’ past, not to his pitching.

Screw Driver
Guest
Screw Driver
4 years 4 months ago

Yes. we go way back

Wrench
Guest
Wrench
4 years 4 months ago

I concur.
He’s one of us.

shibboleth
Guest
shibboleth
4 years 4 months ago

Been looking for this kind of analysis… thanks for the writeup!

fergie348
Guest
fergie348
4 years 4 months ago

Hehehe – Latos pitches against his favorite team tomorrow, where they’ll trot out like 7 left handed batters against him. Should be fun..

fergie348
Guest
fergie348
4 years 4 months ago

Sorry, that game would be tonight. A must-see first inning, I’d say..

jsp2014
Guest
jsp2014
4 years 4 months ago

If you look at his brooksbaseball page, you can see that his slider is giving him a lot of trouble. he actually threw it 25% his first start which was not far off from last year’s usage. in starts 2 and 3, he cut it to about half that. to me, it seems likely that he doesn’t have a feel for the slider, and as a result, he has cut down the usage.

there’s a clear lack of movement going on. RPMs are way down, and both horizontal and vertical movement are significantly reduced, both for slider and curve.

he’s struggling with command of his slider and curve as well, possibly due to its lack of movement. he’s throwing it for a ball significantly more frequently than in the past.

so it’s an interesting chicken/egg situation here. I get the impression that he’s lost his feel for his breaking pitches, and as a result he’s introduced more change-ups. I hope that it’s simply a grip or mechanics issue that can be fixed. I went back and watched the Marlins game and he was throwing some filthy sliders early on.

one thing that does have me concerned is that with an entirely new staff, they might not be able to work with him as effectively.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 4 months ago

Latos has always had the physical skills, his problems are between the ears. In San Diego he would get mad, lose his composure and have to be reminded to concentrate. I suspect he is also trying too hard to please his new team and prove the Padres wrong for trading him.

tommyboobaa
Member
tommyboobaa
4 years 4 months ago

Very informative. Great Work michael.

eliasll
Member
eliasll
4 years 4 months ago

Great article. I put money on the under the total of 7 runs for tonight’s game (Cain vs. Latos)
Before this year’s opening start at Great American, Latos was outstanding pitching there (0.50 whip in two starts). With his stuff the ballpark is a non factor…
ZIPS ROS projection seems accurate

eliasll
Member
eliasll
4 years 4 months ago

Latos did his part. Thank you Otero.

nscheer
Member
nscheer
4 years 4 months ago

i blame dusty baker… he is like a vampire who feeds on the elbow ligaments of pitchers.
–disgruntled cubs fan

TSteel
Guest
TSteel
4 years 4 months ago

Did work tonight!

MLB Rainmaker
Guest
MLB Rainmaker
4 years 4 months ago

Got to echo that I hate that he’s pitching for Dusty Baker now. I’m pretty much counting on an May 2013 elbow injury at this point. Its pitcher abuse when you let a guy throw 40+ pitches in an inning then let him go past 100-110 pitches. Thats the type of thing that over-stress the arm…I get angry just thinking about it…

Great analysis on his velocity, if I didn’t own him in every league I’d try trading for him before tonights performance. I do worry about him in Cincy, but he’s got the talent to be great regardless.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan
4 years 4 months ago

What are you referencing? He only threw 95 pitches through 7 innings last night.

Goose.
Guest
Goose.
4 years 4 months ago

“Why three straight fastballs? I’m not sure, but what’s also pretty clear is that Latos has altered his repertoire since coming over to Cincinnati.”

i don’t know if this is ever much talked about or studied, but you have to wonder perhaps about adjustment periods between pitchers and catchers who are new teammates. a catcher has to get to know what a pitcher likes to throw when – does this usually happen for the first few starts for starters who transition to new teams? maybe there’s no way to measure if there is a success/failure scale w/r/t to this adjustment period (i.e., sometimes pitchers are successful even though they may be having a tough time getting on the same page as a their catcher, or fail despite early kinship…) – but just wondered if this might be one of those “human” parts of the story.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 4 months ago

Any chance of a similar Justin Masterson analysis?

Brad
Guest
Brad
4 years 4 months ago

The cutter didn’t show up on the pitch chart until 2012…is it possible the “cutter” is really just the slider being misclassified?

MBP
Guest
MBP
4 years 4 months ago

It is interesting to note that Ryan Hanigan caught Latos last night, while rookie Devin Mesoraco caught him the first two starts.

John yere
Guest
John yere
4 years 4 months ago

Really good analysis. I agree that this is just a bump in the road, and that he’ll find his command as the season progresses.

Derrick
Guest
Derrick
4 years 4 months ago

Holy small sample size. Saying that he has “pretty clearly” altered his repertoire is just silly to say at this point.

beeviss
Guest
beeviss
4 years 4 months ago

Maybe, just maybe, Mat Latos was right when he said that his first three starts were a result of not trusting his own stuff. I know. Hard to imagine results without formulated statistical reasoning.

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