(Ed.: Bumped to the top of the page, because it got lost in the shuffle earlier today.)
If I may begin by stating the obvious, the 2012 season hasn’t exactly gone as planned for Mat Latos. Certainly, a 4.77 ERA and 4.69 FIP after his first 15 starts is not what the Reds’ front office envisioned getting from him when they agreed to send off Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, and Brad Boxberger in order to acquire the former Padre. But perhaps the most unnerving aspect of Latos’ struggles in the season’s first half is that there isn’t any particularly good explanation for why they’ve happened at all.
In his stint in San Diego, Latos earned a reputation as a bat-missing, zone pounding, strikeout pitcher, and so far that’s more or less still the case so far in his Reds’ career. A quick comparison of Latos’ 2012 peripherals to the numbers he put up last season shows that his walk rate, strikeout rate, and whiff rate are all essentially the same between both seasons, as is his batted ball profile. The only thing that stands out as being different about the two seasons is the number of home runs Latos is allowing, and, in particular, his HR/FB ratio, which currently sits at an obscene 16%. In other words, one out of every six fly balls Latos allows winds up being a home run.
Given that Latos previously played his home games in Petco Park, one of the most spacious stadiums in the majors, this could help us figure out why he’s had the troubles he’s had this season, but the problem with that theory is that Latos has never really had a proclivity for allowing a lot of long balls away from Petco, either. Going back to 2011, his HR/FB rate was actually a full pointÃ‚Â lower on the road than it was at home, at a mark of just 6.8%. So just assuming there’s a park adjustment thing going on thing doesn’t really get us anywhere either.
So to go back to where we started: there’s no explanation for what’s been going on with Latos so far this season. There’s two ways to look at that. On the one hand it could terrify you, but on the other hand, you could look at the lack of an explanation as proof that the only explanation is bad luck, and bad luck usually has a way of working itself out after awhile. HR/FB rates, in particular, tend to be pretty volatile, so if Latos has just been getting unlucky in terms of having balls leave the yard in the season’s first half, it could very well begin to even out over the summer months. His fantastic outing last night could be the beginning of that regression, especially with his next two scheduled starts coming in the familiar confines in San Francisco and San Diego.
The silver lining here for the Reds is that they do currently lead the N.L. Central with the third best winning percentage in the senior circuit so, at the least, the lack of quality pitching from Latos early on has not dug them into any holes as we approach the All-Star break. If some good old fashioned regression to the mean is in his future, it’s only going to get harder for the rest of the division to catch up to the Redlegs.