Mat Latos proved the doubters wrong last season. When he was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Cincinnati Reds, there was some debate over whether he could carry over his strong performance to his home park. No one went overboard and predicted despair, but there were some legitimate reasons to think Latos’ stats would decline since he was leaving one of the best pitcher’s parks for one of the most favorable hitter’s parks. After churning out a nearly identical 3.48 ERA, there was little doubt about his ability, regardless of his home park. But Latos is aware of his surroundings. And due to some minor alterations that may have been made to combat his tough home park, Latos could be on his way to his best season as a pro.
Despite Latos’ solid ERA in 2012, there were some signs that he might see some slight regression in 2013. His 3.82 FIP and 3.79 xFIP both ranked as his worst since his 50.2 inning debut in 2009. The major difference looking at his surface stats was a rise in his HR/9. After two seasons close to 0.75, Latos saw that number jump to 1.07. The rise shouldn’t have been a big surprise. Many expected Latos to see a jump in his home run total in the friendly Great American Ballpark.
That hasn’t been the case this season. Latos has seen his HR/9 drop back down to 0.71. As a result, his 3.28 xFIP now agrees with his performance. It appears this was a conscious decision by Latos. He’s relied far more on his sinker. In 2012, he used the pitch 17.85% of the time. That’s up to 31.65 in 2013, making it his primary offering. While the pitch has succeeded in getting Latos a decent amount of grounders, his overall ground ball rate has actually gone down. That’s due to an increase in line-drive percentage, and not in fly ball percentage. While line drives will lead to more hits, which could explain his elevated .316 BABIP, they aren’t going to lead to as many long balls.
Another reason for Latos’ success is his improved mastery of his sinker and change-up. Both Latos’ sinker and change-up were the biggest culprits for his elevated home run rate in 2012. Both pitches have improved in 2013. And though the pre-season stories about Latos throwing his change more ended up not being accurate, the extra work he put in during the offseason appears to have improved his feel for the pitch.
Latos’ sinker has been extremely effective at limiting right-handers. Righties have a .081 ISO against his sinker. He’s seen a less drastic shift against lefties, though. Latos’ ISO with the sinker against lefties has dropped from .244 to .213, but his slugging percentage has jumped to .520. Because of that, lefties have continued to tag him more than right-handers. It’s tough to say Latos should go back to his four-seamer against lefties, though, as it has typically been hit well by left-handers. The improvement against righties justifies the change, but lefties will still remain somewhat of a problem.
Latos has done a better job of limiting fly balls during his second season with the Reds. Though it’s lead to a higher line drive rate, and a higher BABIP, it’s lead to fewer balls leaving the park. Considering his ERA was identical last season, Latos deserves credit for adapting his repertoire to better suit his home park after a successful year. It may lead to the best season of his career to date.