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What’s Wrong With Mat Latos?

The Cincinnati Reds may have some buyer’s remorse with Mat Latos. After acquiring the 24-year-old this off-season, the Reds finally had an ace. This season, Latos has been one of the biggest busts in fantasy baseball. Latos — the owner of a 3.37 career ERA before — has seen that number jump to 4.91 this year. Unless he can return to form, Latos’ time as a fantasy ace may be over.

While Latos has struggled this season, it’s tough to point out exactly why he hasn’t been as effective. His strikeout rate — while still solid — has fallen from 23.3 percent to 20.7 percent. Perhaps more alarmingly, Latos’ walk rate has jumped to 8.5 percent this season — his worst performance in the category since his rookie season.

Latos — who has always been a fly ball pitcher — has been punished by his new home park. His ground ball rate has fallen to just 38.2 percent, and that won’t work in Cincinnati. Latos’ extreme fly ball ways have led to a career high 15 percent home run rate this season. While that number is likely to regress as the season goes on, there’s also a good chance Latos will allow home runs at a higher rate now that he no longer pitches in Petco.

The most troubling aspect of Latos’ struggles is that only one of his pitches has been above-average this season according to pitch type values. In previous years, Latos has been able to rely on his fastball, slider and changeup. This season, only his fastball has a positive pitch value. His slider, which has typically been his most effective pitch, is getting knocked around quite a bit. It’s gone from being rated as one of the best sliders in the league last season (10.5 pitch value) to one of the worst this year (-2.7). His changeup has also be less effective, though the change has not been as drastic as his slider’s decline. The loss of his breaking pitches has nothing to do with velocity. He’s throwing pitches at the same speed he always has, but they haven’t been as effective.

According to PITCHf/x Latos has started throwing a cutter this year. While the cutter can be a deadly weapon for some pitchers, Latos hasn’t mastered the pitch just yet. He’s thrown the pitch 16.1 percent of the time, but it’s only produced a -1.0 pitch value. And while it doesn’t hurt for Latos to tinker with another pitch, he’s doing it at the expense of throwing the pitches that have been effective for him in the past. Latos’ four-seam fastball usage has dropped from 43.8 to 37.6. His slider and changeup have also experienced a similar decline in usage this year. Latos may be trying to throw fewer sliders to save his arm, but, by doing so, he’s taking away his most effective weapon. The cutter isn’t adding anything to his repertoire at this point, and it might be time to ditch this experiment.

Latos’ decline is tough to explain. While ditching the cutter in favor of more fastballs and sliders would help, it may not cure all of his issues. His pitching style isn’t suited for Cincinnati, and he’s going to give up a lot of home runs in that ballpark unless something changes. If the cutter was supposed to help Latos keep the ball down, it’s not working. Unless Latos adjusts to pitching in his new ballpark, his time as a fantasy ace may be over.