While the Reds are still theoretically playing for this year, there are important issues looming on the horizon. The Reds have to decide if they are going to try to resign Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and/or Johnny Cueto. While Walt Jocketty has publicly stated that the Reds want to resign all three, he has also said (perhaps for bargaining leverage) that the Reds payroll may not be able to take on three major pitching contracts next off season.

While Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto both have had unambiguously great years, Mat Latos’ year is a bit more foggy than the rest. On the surface, Latos seems to be having a very-Latos-like year: His ERA (3.46) is in line with his career ERA (3.36). His ERA since being traded to the Reds has been shockingly stable: 3.48/3.16/3.46.

His xFIP (3.97) and FIP (3.61) don’t scream looming disaster, although they are both above his career rate. This is the point in the column where everyone braces themselves for the unsustainably-low BABIP. And yes, Mat has put up a very low BABIP this year (.266). But here is the strange thing about Latos: despite his stable ERA with the Reds, over those same three years his BABIP has fluctuated widely:

TABLE1

So while the back-of-the-baseball card stats seem to indicate Latos has returned to form, the deeper you dig, the more compacted the picture becomes. Latos has been striking out batters less frequently than he has in the past. Furthermore, his batted ball profile shows that Latos is giving up more fly balls and line drives than he did over the previous few years:

TABLE2

One number that we dont normally discuss is a pitcher’s infield fly ball rate. This (very self explanatory stat, yet abbreviated like a rare infectious disease, IFFB%) number is usually stable across a pitcher’s career, deviating with a random error of one or two percentage points. Since some pitchers have high IFFB%s (see: Matt Cain), it led baseball geeks writers to ask if a high infield fly ball percentage could explain pitchers who consistently out pitch their xFIP (which uses a stable home runs per fly ball rate). Turns out, it can’t.

Which brings me to Mat Latos in 2014. His IFFB% is 17.3%, which is the highest in all of baseball. This is an outlier from his career rate (11.2%), last year (11.8), and is almost double the year before (9.0%). This is not definitive evidence that Latos is going to regress in the coming year, but if these balls are redistributed according to his current GB/FB/LD percentages, then his current ERA will begin to move in the direction of his Skill Interactive Earned Run Average (4.09).

There is one other major area that concerns me about Mat Latos: hitters are attacking his pitches more effectively than in the past. By that, I mean when hitters swing at pitches, they are making contact more often, and swing through pitches less than before.

Latos4

[Z-contact standards for percentage of swings making contact in the strike zone, O-Contact% is the number of swings making contact outside the zone, while SwStr% is the percentage of strikes due to swing-and-miss]

Now, to be fair to Mat, he is pitching differently this year than he has in previous years. He has dramatically cut back on using his slider (down ten percent from last year) while tripling the use of his change up (up from 4% to 12% of his pitches). Perhaps this change has allowed Latos to succeed despite hitters making better contact than they have in the past.

But perhaps not. While Latos’ traditional stats may indicate that this year is just more of what we’ve always seen, his pitches are hit more than they used to, he is striking out fewer batters, and giving up more line drives than in the past.  Decades of baseball research tell us that pitchers have the most control over strikeouts, walks, and home runs.

Hoping a pitcher can induce weaker contact by changing their pitching repertoire is usually a bet that does not payoff well in the long run. Perhaps Latos has changed his pitch composition because he has improved his change up. Perhaps Latos is still not 100% and will return to his previous form next year. But thats the problem: we don’t know. Yet decision time is coming up for the Reds in just a few months. If this is the real Mat Latos, the Reds offseason has just become much more complicated.

Join the conversation! 26 Comments

  1. Mark me amongst those who feel he isn’t 100% and is using a changed pitch distribution to hide it. He just hasn’t looked like himself this year in terms of “confidence” on the mound. I’m not really sure why he looks wrong, he just has.

    What impresses me the most is that, he hasn’t looked quite right, yet he’s still found a way to get the job done. Hopefully we bring him back next year.

  2. Nice look at Latos. I believe that I’ve heard that Mat’s fastball velocity is down as well this year. Like some of the other stats, it’s hard to tell whether or not that is a result of the injuries or the erosion of skill. I’d like to see the Reds try to get him signed this off season at a more friendly rate than Homer or at least near that contract. This is a great chance to buy low…….I hope.

  3. Latos FB velocity has dropped from 93-94 to 90-91

  4. I think Latos will baounce back some next year but DO NOT sign him long term. While I would not sign many pitchers long term, I have never trusted Latos on a long term deal and now he looks to have peaked. Remember he was pitching 200 innings at 21 years old so he may have less in the tank.

    • I think Walt knows this and will move Latos this offseason. I would bet he gets a 2-4 million outfielder in that deal and a few borderline prospects. No one is giving up future stars in the offseason but it could help the offense.

      • Dream trade: Latos to Red Sox for Mookie Betts. Natural 2B but with skills to move around.

  5. Latos fastball velocity is down. Just from last year his vFB was 92.5 and is 90.7 this year. And it is off even more from his SD years (94.0). But his changeup velocity is increasing. Last year it was 84.1 and this year it is 85.9. And it is up even more from his SD days (82.5). Now it appears as though there might not be a stark difference from the FB to the Changup. It is one thing to have a fastball at 92-93 and a changeup at 83-84. Now though with a 90-91 FB and a changeup that is 85-86, it might not be fooling the hitters as much.

  6. “Perhaps for bargaining leverage?” No other team believes that the Reds will or can sign all three, so I fail to see where “bargaining leverage” comes into play here. That’s giving Jocketty way too much credit.

    • Thats why I see more of a swap for a position player than a pure trade for prospects.

    • Hmm…did any other team believe the Reds would sign Votto, Phillips and Bailey to long term deals? I fail to see how anyone can make a definitive statement on what ownership will do unless you are a part of the ownership group. Otherwise, you’d be giving yourself too much credit.

      Now, as to whether the Reds should secure all 3 pitchers, I think they would be better served giving up one of them in the offseason for some offensive help. My preference would be Latos. He won’t be as durable as Leake but he is young enough and accomplished enough to return value in a trade.

      • I’m still wondering why so many people ignore Latos’ surgery, lost spring training and difficult in-season recovery in this whole discussion. I see strong shades of his past strengths coming through (speed AND power do take time to regenerate), and given his age and the time since his surgery, I’d fully expect him to be moving forward at a high level by next spring.

        HIs physical talent, 12-to-6 curve, and general moxie is worthy, but I really just worry about his emotional stability and almost stubborn lack of maturity. One or two “bad” calls (I know that there are many everyday for everyone, but there’s no future in taunting/baiting umpires) and Mat is blowing steam out of his ears like a mid-’30s cartoon tea pot. He is, by nature, confrontational, and he’ll never, EVER be a great pitcher until he can control that. I don’t think he can. Trade him and find a chap with an oft-connecting, beisbol-clobbering, leather-orb projectile delivery system.

        • Somehow I got caught with, um, er, somebody else’s ‘real’ name. Yoiks!!

        • You make points that I’m surprised no one else has made. Latos has obviously not had as much velocity and movement on his fastball since returning from elbow and knee surgery. That was expected at first, but has continued all season. The problem of course is that no one knows if he will recover his former stuff, making it hard to evaluate him right now.

          You’re correct that he still blows up like a hotheaded teenager when things don’t go how he likes with an umpire or the Reds defense. I thought he’d get over that, but he still hasn’t.

          Among Cueto, Leake, and Latos, he’s certainly the last one you’d want to sign long-term right now. That makes him the one to trade, but the Reds would be selling somewhat low. It would take more than Latos to get a impact hitter in return.

  7. I tink it’s all going to come down to what Bob wants. IF Bob wants to resign all 3 of the SP he will. IF he feels it’s best to use one or two of them to add talent in other areas via trade I think he will instruct Walt in that direction. This off season is in Bob’s, not Walt’s hands.

    • The players and their agents have the say, not ownership. Many players/agents want to see what the free agent market is before agreeing to a deal. Bob cannot force anyone to sign. That being said there is not enough money to sign all 3 given the existing contracts. Although there is no salary cap there IS a luxury tax. Cueto will need 25 mil a year, Latos 20, Leake 15. That ads up to 135 million for currently signed players, not including upgrades or arbitration (or buy outs for Ludwick and Jack for that which are 6.5 mil). So basically you would be at the luxury tax level with ANY additional players . . . NOT HAPPENING.

      • We don’t know what Bob is are isn’t willing to spend. He shelled out for every player he wanted to up to this point.

        • The goal of Big Bob C. was “to bring championship baseball back to Cincinnati.” Castellini hired Jocketty as the architect for that championship.
          Wait for it……wait for it……. wait for it.
          Drew, we are still waiting!!!!!!!
          And if Castellini is hard-headed enough to re-sign Jocketty as the GM, in the year 2020, we will still be waiting.
          And in the words of the famed American philosopher Tom Petty, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

        • Signing players for long term in to their 30’s has not worked for the Yankees, especially when they cannot wim now with those players.

        • Exaclty where were the Reds pre Walt/Bob? Wait for it…wait for it…bottom feeders. Since both have arrived where overall have the Reds been? Divison title, playoff appearances and such. Winning a WS takes more then talent, takes luck. There is no way anyone will ever convince me that the Giants were the best team in baseball when they won the WS. They got lucky and they got hot at the right time.

  8. I think you look to see what value you could get back by trading Latos. You make the move if you feel you can get some valuable offense back. If you don’t like what other teams are willing to give up for him, then you hold on to him and you exchange arbitration figures, hopefully working out a deal for the year. I don’t think it’s a good idea to go long term on Latos. I may be wrong but like Jason discusses and Zaglamir points out, there are some red flags that suggest that a long term contract may be too risky.

    • The one thing we have in the minors is starters, dont need to sign all these guys for big mony as there are replacements on the way.

      • Which ones are you referring to. I also noted that you didn’t say “Major League” starters. Oh, one final note, just exactly which set of numbers are using as indicators Fangraphs, MLB.com, or your opinions. 🙂

    • I like the buy low theory on a two year contract. Buy out a year of FA at a favorable market price. If Latos is in fact damaged goods – the commitment is minimal. If he rebounds, he is still young enough to trade.

      • A “prove to us and the league you are healthy” deal, buying out a FA year, is a deal I’d be willing to do but I don’t know if Latos’ agent would.

  9. A caveat on all Latos’ numbers is that he has pitched only about half of the innings that he normally does this year. Thus, the chances for statistical variation are higher. Plus Latos was coming off a serious injury. Has his fastball only averaged 90.7 mph in his recent starts?

  10. Sore elbow… I’m willing to guess Mat will begin next year on the DL possibly along side Bailey. So that makes 2 starters we can try to sign in Cueto and Leake. That is more realistic than signing all three.

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