Better Latos Than Ever

About 17 months ago, the Reds brought Mat Latos to Cincinnati. In an effort to bolster the rotation, the team traded away two first-round picks, a former number-one starter, and a strong relief prospect to acquire the big right-hander. At the time, the trade was questioned somewhat by most experts. Did the Reds really have to give up all that young talent for a player who, at the time, was seen by some as an injury risk?

Well it may be early to assess the merits of the deal, but the Reds are reaping those early benefits. Let’s first take a quick look at the players the Reds dealt. Yasmani Grandal, a first round pick in 2010, is currently serving a 50-game suspension after testing positive for testosterone. Yonder Alonso, a 2008 first rounder, is starting at first base for the Padres, and after finishing sixth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2012, is hitting .270 with two home runs and eight RBI. Not exactly Joey Votto-type numbers. And Edinson Volquez? Well, his numbers are not pretty early on. (His 2013 line: 0-3, 8.84 ERA, 4.95 FIP, and 5.89 K/9.)

Then there’s Latos. The Reds starter hasn’t recorded a win this season, which is a bit odd considering he has received the second-best run support in the NL at 7.33 runs/ start. (Though not that odd when you notice that almost all those runs came after Latos left the game.) But aside from his win-loss record, his early numbers are incredibly promising and indicative of the type of starter the Reds need him to be.

Through his first four starts, Latos is the only NL starter to rank in the top five in K/9, K/BB, and xFIP, three strong indicators of pitching effectiveness. (The numbers: 9.91 K/ 9 (5th), 7.25 K/BB (3rd), 2.66 xFIP (3rd).) For the uninitiated, check out this xFIP primer.

How strong are those numbers? Well, since xFIP was first recorded in 2002, only one starter has been able to maintain those statistics for an entire season. Curt Schilling, in 2002, when he went 23-7 en route to co-leading the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title with fellow ace (and 2002 Cy Young Award winner) Randy Johnson.

Now, of course, Latos has only started four games this year, so I wanted to check out some of his luck factors to determine if the numbers are something legitimate, or prone to crash down to earth. Surprisingly, Latos has been slightly unlucky this year. His left-on-base percentage (LOB%) is 73.6 percent, just a tick above league average. His home run/fly ball ratio is not particularly good at 11.5 percent, but that is due in large part to the unlucky circumstances of playing in Great American Ballpark. And batters’ BABIP against Latos is way above league average at .333.

So while Latos has been excellent through four starts—and though it’d be foolish to expect him to maintain this pace—the numbers show that Latos has actually had a few tough breaks so far. His numbers could, and almost should, improve.
It’s a welcome sign for a Reds team with their ace, Johnny Cueto, on the DL. And if Latos keeps throwing like this, Cueto may have no choice but to share that title.

Closing Numbers

1.045—The combined OBP of Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, who rank first and second in the league respectively. Choo passed Votto on Sunday and sits at .523. Votto is at .522.

.974—OPS of catcher Devin Mesoraco in three starts over the past week. With Ryan Hanigan on the DL, Mesoraco will be the everyday catcher and have a chance to unseat Hanigan permanently, especially considering…

.393—Hanigan’s OPS over that same stretch. The veteran has struggled mightily at the plate this year and may soon find himself in backup duty.

And one final thought…

Our country did not have much to smile about last week. Two cowards set in motion a plan to ruin lives at the Boston Marathon and followed it up by needlessly killing an MIT police officer. Their actions struck fear in a prodigiously proud city and cut lives short that had barely begun. In Texas, a fertilizer plant exploded, a freak accident scorching a small town. Altogether, 18 lives were lost and more than 300 people were injured/maimed in the week’s tragedies—and that’s not counting the lives of the school children asking parents why a friend is not in class, or the grieving families left with too many unanswered questions.

Yet, amidst a sea of despair, Ted Kremer gave us a small reason to smile. The Reds bat boy reminded us what unbridled, innocent joy looks like after Todd Frazier’s home run on Thursday night. The importance of sports in our lives in trying times can be melodramatically overstated, so I will refrain from waxing poetically and defending the place of sports in our society. But hopefully someone who was more directly impacted by the week’s tragedies than I was can smile as they watch Kremer leap into Frazier’s arms.

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