Note to readers: I started writing this piece before Latos' bad outing on Saturday afternoon, but that start doesn't change my mind about him.
I profiled Reds starter Mat Latos in this piece last October where I opined that he was on the cusp of becoming a fantasy ace. Alex Kantecki followed that up with his take on Latos in February, saying that Latos deserves more or our attention. Until now, Latos has been known for his numerous tattoos, his sluggish April performance, and for being a second tier starter in most formats for fantasy owners. This season, we have seen him take his performance to another level. Let's take a closer look.
In my October article, I discovered that as his 2012 season got longer, he showed improvement in his HR/month, K/BB, and BABIP allowed in the second half of the season, and just needed to open the 2013 season with a better April performance, which could leap him into the fantasy ace discussion.
Let's take a look at how he has fared in his career in April and May, via Baseball-Reference:
As you can see, he has struggled in April in his career, going 4-8 with a 4.34 ERA, 1.336 WHIP and 17 home runs allows in 110 innings pitched. He has also allowed a .265 batting average against, so he has been hittable in the first month of the season in his career.
Now, let's take a look at his how he has fared in 2013 to this point, again, via Baseball-Reference:
In six April starts, he was 2-0 with an ace-like 1.83 ERA and 1.093 WHIP. He has given up just three home runs in 39.1 innings of work, and his 4.63 K/BB rate is the best of his career for the month of April. He limited his opponents to a .241 batting average against, and a .631 OPS, down from his .771 career rate.
May has been a different story, as he has been knocked around in his first two starts. He has given up 21 base runners in 11 innings, including two home runs. While his walks per nine and home runs per nine have increased in May, his K/9 has stayed relatively the same (8.5 K/9 in April vs 8.2 K/9 in May). He will need to show that his last two starts are just a blip and he can return to the fantasy stud we saw in April. His next start will be on Thursday in Miami to face the struggling Marlins.
Why has he been much more dominant this season than last? According to FanGraphs PitchFX pitch types, here is a breakdown of his pitch selections this season vs 2012:
Fastball: 26.0% vs 28.8%
Two seam fastball: 14.7% vs 7.9%
Cut fastball: 19.4% vs 21.7%
Slider: 25.2% vs 24.6%
Curveball: 10.6% vs 11.5%
Changeup: 4.2% vs 4.5%
In summary, he is throwing less fastballs and cut fastballs and a lot more two seam fastballs. All of his other pitch types have varied by less than 1% thus far, so the change is not large enough. I did notice that he threw more fastballs and sliders in his last start, which may have contributed to the rough outing, as they were either being hit or he did not control them to well.
Latos has been much more dominant in the early going of 2013 than he has in the past, and this does not bode well for National League hitters, as Latos usually turns up his performance a few notches as the season goes along. If he can pitch in May - September like has has in the past (he owns a 3.14 career ERA from May - September), he could definitely be in the running for National League Cy Young this season.
Should Mat Latos be a consideration in the fantasy ace discussion?