When Cincinnati emptied its farm system to get Mat Latos from the Padres this past offseason, the Reds figured they had acquired a power pitcher years away from free agency with the potential to anchor the rotation. But Latos, who struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings pitched and posted a 107 ERA+ with San Diego from 2009-11, has just 5.7 whiffs per nine and a 63 ERA+ in 28.2 frames with his new club.
For whatever reason, the 24-year-old righty has moved away from the approach that made him successful with the Padres. Rather than racking up whiffs with high fastballs and low-and-away sliders, Latos is staying low in the zone with his heater and going to a cutter that hitters almost connect with.
With San Diego, Latos was mainly a four-seam fastball/slider pitcher. In Cincinnati, he's using his typically go-to offerings less often in favor of a cut fastball:
Latos' Pitch Selection
|Year||Fastball Pct.||Slider Pct.||Cutter Pct.||Changeup Pct.||Curveball Pct.|
Latos isn't just using his fastball less, he's using it differently. Take a look at his fastball location from 2009-11, and then in 2012 with the Reds:
In San Diego, Latos threw 43 percent of his fastballs high in the strike zone. In Cincy, he's tossing his heater high just 31 percent of the time. And, as Latos' contact rate by pitch location shows, he's not missing bats on those lower fastballs:
Latos has an 18 percent miss rate on high fastballs, a nine percent miss rate on middle fastballs and a four percent miss rate on low fastballs. It's no surprise, then, that Latos' overall miss rate with his fastball has dipped greatly with him pitching lower in the zone. He had an overall fastball miss rate of 16 percent with the Padres, compared to 11 percent in Cincy (the average for starters is about 14 percent).
In addition to going high in the zone less often with his fastball, Latos' decision to cut his slider usage and mix in cutters hasn't worked out to this point. Latos' slider is one of the best in the game, getting whiffs about 39 percent of the time this season. Clayton Kershaw, Francisco Liriano and Jon Lester are the only starters with a higher slider miss rate since 2009. But Latos' cutter? Not so much. In fact, he's got the lowest miss rate among starters throwing at least 50 cutters this year:
Lowest Cutter Miss Rates, 2012 (Min. 50 Pitches)
Perhaps Latos' change in fastball approach is a result of moving out of PETCO Park. Without such spacious confines, it's possible that he's trying to generate more grounders by throwing more offerings at hitters' knees. But he's actually getting far fewer grounders with his fastball this year (43 percent from 2009-11, 33 percent in 2012) while costing himself whiffs. And his decision to use a cutter in place of more bat-missing sliders has further cut into his K rate.
Right now, Mat Latos is pitching like someone else and getting pummeled. Cincy didn't surrender Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez for the type of pitcher that has been on display this April. Getting back to what worked so well in San Diego -- high heat, and sliders aplenty -- would be in both his and the Reds' best interest.