Photo by Joseph Fuqua II, Cincinnati Enquirer

Redleg Nation, meet Mathew Adam Latos.

Basic Bio

Mat Latos turned 24 on December 9.  He is a big-framed (6’6″, 225 lbs) right-handed pitcher, born in Alexandria, Virginia and played baseball at Coconut Creek High School in Florida.  He bats right-handed and notably, has nearly every inch of his upper body inked, including this and this on his pitching arm.

2006:  Drafted out of High School

Latos was selected by San Diego in the 11th round of the 2006 draft.  While many scouts saw him as possessing first-round talent, John Sickels reported that Latos “fell down draft boards because of excessive bonus demands, a University of Oklahoma commitment, and worries about his makeup and personality.”

An impressive stint pitching for Broward Community College in the spring of 2007 persuaded the Padres to sign 19-year-old Mat Latos to a $1.25 million contract on May 30.

2007-2009:  A and AA Minor Leagues

Latos spent 2007, 2008 and part of 2009 in the Padres’ farm system.  In 2007 and 2008, he pitched for several rookie/A-ball teams in the Padres system, throwing 112 innings and recording a 143/35 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  In 2009, Latos pitched at the A and AA levels then was promoted to the Padres, skipping AAA.

In his minor league career, Latos went 12-8, with a 2.49 ERA, a 216/47 K/BB in 185 innings, allowing 149 hits.  John Sickels summarized Latos’ minor league career this way: “(His record was) outstanding, K/BB, K/IP, H/IP, all terrific, FIPS excellent, everything was as good as it could be sabermetrically.”

2009:  Major League Debut

On July 19, 2009, Mat Latos debuted against the Colorado Rockies, where he threw 75 pitches in four innings.  Nine other starts followed before he was shut down in September over the Padres’ precautionary concerns over his innings pitched totals.  In ten starts, Latos compiled a 4-5 record for the Padres at the age of 21.

2010:  Breakthrough Season

2010 was Mat Latos’ first full season as a major league pitcher, starting 31 games, and he recorded a 14-10 record and a 2.92 ERA over 184 IP.  His peripherals were excellent, at 9.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and FIP 3.00.  A former major league scout attributed Latos’ breakthrough in 2010 partially to his moving from the far right side of the rubber to the first base side.  This allowed Latos to improve his angles, tempo and delivery repeatability.

Latos slumped at the end of the 2010 season, losing his last five games, which many analysts attributed to fatigue.  Latos’ workload of 184 IP surpassed his 2009 workload by 66 innings.  The Padres had initially discussed limiting Latos to about 150 innings in 2010, but unexpectedly found themselves in a pennant race so Latos continued to pitch regularly until the season’s end.

Despite his end-of-year decline, Latos finished 8th in the NL Cy Young voting, as a 22-year-old.

One of Latos’ 2010 highlights was a complete game, one-hit shutout of the San Francisco Giants, the eventual World Series champs.  The only hit he surrendered was an infield single.

On September 7, Latos broke one of Greg Maddux’s records by making fifteen consecutive starts of at least five innings and giving up two or fewer earned runs — the longest such streak for any pitcher in major league history, dating back to 1900.  In the middle of that streak, Latos made a short trip to the disabled list, straining a muscle due to suppressing a sneeze.

2011:  A Tale of Two Halves

Latos started the 2011 season on the disabled list, diagnosed with shoulder bursitis, but it wasn’t considered serious and he only missed a couple of starts.  His 2011 debut came against the Reds on April 11 at Petco Park, where he threw 94 pitches and struck out seven in a 3-2 loss.  Latos gave up only four hits, including a Chris Heisey game-winning two-run homer in the fifth inning.

Latos’ 2011 season began as poorly as his 2010 season finished — he lost his first five decisions.  By mid-year, concerns were raised that the sharp increase in his innings pitched in 2010 had taken a meaningful toll on Latos’ arm strength and health.

But starting at the end of June, Latos put together an extremely strong second half of 2011, replicating his breakout 2010 performance.  He recorded a 2.87 ERA, 8.8 K/9 and a 3.83 K/BB that actually surpassed his 2010 3.78 K/BB.  Over his last 17 starts, only once did he give up more than three earned runs, and that was four runs in a start against the Dodgers.

The second-half improvement has been attributed to an increased use of his slider over his curveball, especially to right-handed hitters.  The strong finish put to rest, at least for now, concerns that his playoff-chase overuse in 2010 may have permanently affected his pitching.

Contract History and Status

As of now, Latos has accumulated just over two years of major league service time, which means 2012 will be his third and final pre-arbitration year.  He will be arbitration eligible in the 2013-2015 seasons and in 2016 Latos will be eligible for free agency.  (As a refresher, here is your Redleg Nation primer on how the arbitration system works.)

In 2010 ($407,800) and 2011 ($460,700) he earned the league minimum based on his service time.  In thinking about a possible contract extension for Latos, a Padres blog recently drew an analogy between the contract the Tampa Bay Rays just signed with Matt Moore to what San Diego might have expected Latos to accept.

Pitching Arsenal

Latos has four pitches: a straight-over-the-top fastball, both four-seam and two-seam, that he throws in the 93-94 range and occasionally reaches 97; a sharp, late-breaking slider that he throws around 83 mph; a 12-to-6 curve ball; and a plus change-up he throws also around 83 mph.

The breakdown in frequency is: four-seam fastball (44%), two-seam fastball (12%), slider (27%), curveball (11%) and change-up (6%).  His go-to, miss-the-bat pitch, is the slider.

Latos has a classic dominant pitcher’s frame.  He uses his height to throw the ball downhill, creating a difficult hitting angle.