Maybe you didn’t notice it because he’s been putting up stats that are virtually identical to those that he showed last year, but apparently Mat Latos has been pitching in pain. That’s what he told the Cincinnati Enquirer at least.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said. “I could care less because I’m not trying to win over fans or anything like that. I’ve been pitching with an abdominal strain since the Texas game. I think it was at the end of the June.”
His ERA since then has been 3.41, so it couldn’t have been that bad. But, as an exercise in injury-spotting, with perhaps a thought to the soon-to-be 26-year-old’s keeper value, let’s take a look at what’s happened since that start in Texas.
An ERA in the mid-threes and seven wins is nothing to complain about. On the other hand, Latos’ strikeout rate has been 6.8 since the injury, which is down a full strikeout per nine over his seasonal rate. Perhaps he’s changed to accommodate his aching side? Let’s take a look at his pitching mix and velocities, pre- and post-injury.
|Pitch Type||Pre-Injury %||Post-Injury %||Pre-Injury Velo||Post-Injury Velo|
The good news is that velocity has not been a problem for Latos. Most of his velocities are up, actually. The bad news is that he’s been turning to the fastball more. He used to throw his cutter, two-seamer or four-seamer 46% of the time. After he hurt his oblique, he’s been throwing a fastball variant 65% of the time. Fewer sliders, almost half the curves and changeups, and that’s where your strikeout rate goes.
That’s how your swinging strike rate goes from 12.12% down to 8.90%.
Unfortunately, there’s been no real silver lining. His ground-ball rate hasn’t gone up much (It was 43.9% in the first half, 45.7% in the second half). He hasn’t recovered strikeout rate recently (It was 24.9% in the first half, 15.9% in the second half, and 8.5% in September). He actually has improved his control some (7.1% to 5.8% in the second half), which is a natural extension of throwing more fastballs, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a worse overall pitcher since his injury.
Of course, for his real-life team, Latos was doing well enough to run him out there. They needed him, and he delivered, giving his team the fifth-best pitching performance in the National League by WAR. Even by fantasy standards, 14 wins, a low-threes ERA and almost eight strikeouts per nine makes for a fine season.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some asterisks. He’s probably hurt a few head-to-head teams in September with his bad strikeout rate. It’s worth asking how good he’ll be in the post-season. And though he’s only turning 26 this offseason, it’s worth asking how much more often this will happen to Latos, and what he’ll do the next time his side hurts. Almost 14,000 pitches into his pitching career, it might serve him better to take a 15-day rest next time.