Blue Jays: Mat Latos shows he may be able to provide stability

Apr 21, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mat Latos (57) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the second inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 21, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mat Latos (57) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the second inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Blue Jays got the win on Friday night (April 22nd) in a wild 13 innings affair that featured the first home run of the season for franchise icon Jose Bautista. However, it was the first 5 innings I want to touch on, specifically regarding starting pitcher Mat Latos.

Latos is a well travelled veteran who has experienced pretty high levels of success in the majors. His most successful stretch came from 2010 to the end of the 2013 season. Latos posted fWAR’s of 4.3 and 3.8 with the San Diego Padres. He was then traded in a big blockbuster that sent him to the Cincinnati Reds where he posted a 3.1 fWAR in 2012 and 4.8 in 2013. During that stretch, Latos was the 14th most valuable starting pitcher in all of baseball.

2014 rolled around and the injuries started to mount for Latos. In 2014, he only started 16 games for the Reds but still managed to post a 1.7 fWAR with a solid 3.25 ERA, 3.65 FIP, and 3.99 xFIP. The Reds moved Latos in the 2014 season to the Miami Marlins, and it started to fall apart for him then. Latos bounced around from the Marlins where he made 16 starts with a 4.48 ERA. He did throw the ball much better than that, as evidenced by the 3.41 FIP.

Latos was then moved from the Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a big 3 team trade at the deadline. The Dodgers were decimated for injuries and needed a starter badly to step into the rotation. It did not go over so well. Latos started 5 games for the Dodgers and threw up an ugly 6.66 ERA with a 4.00 FIP and 3.61 xFIP. Due to the ugly numbers, the Dodgers DFA’d Latos near season’s end. He signed a deal with the Los Angeles Angels to throw in the final week of the regular season, where he made just 2 relief appearances.

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After the whirlwind 2015, Latos hit free agency. One could argue that if you remove Latos’ 2015 season, he would have gotten a much bigger deal in 2016, but the poor performance and the 2014 injury season, Latos settled for a 1 year deal worth just $3 million with the Chicago White Sox.

The deal started off fantastic for the White Sox. Latos threw the ball quite well in his first 4 starts with the Sox posting a 0.74 ERA. It then fell apart drastically. He allowed 29 earned runs in the next 36 innings he threw. After the White Sox traded for James Shields, Latos was DFA’d. He then bounced to the Washington Nationals, where he started 1 game and made 6 relief appearances in the long man role. It was only 9.2 innings with the Nationals, so take the 6.52 ERA as you wish.

Fast forward to this past spring training, Latos signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. He didn’t throw the ball overly well in spring and accepted a minor league assignment to the Buffalo Bisons.

That entire journey brought us to where we are today, 1 start into his career as a Blue Jay. Latos threw 5 innings in his 2017 debut, where he allowed 4 runs and 6 hits. He walked 3 batters and struck out just 1. For a guy who will be relied upon for a few starts with both J.A Happ and Aaron Sanchez on the DL, the start was about what you could expect. Nothing overly good, but it wasn’t a disaster. The big blow for Latos came on a ball that barely stayed fair and cleared the bases on a 3 RBI double by Albert Pujols. He then allowed a solo shot to Mike Trout the next inning and his night was done.

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Latos will get at least one more start which will come Wednesday April 26th at the St. Louis Cardinals. Even though it wasn’t an overly good start, I see no reason to believe Latos can’t provide a bit of stability to the Blue Jays’ rotation with Happ and Sanchez out.

The main thing to look at is why he seems to have declined so rapidly after being ace-calibre with the Padres and Reds. The main thing that obviously stands out is his velocity decline. When Latos started his great stretch from 2010-2013, he averaged 93.0-94.0 MPH on his fastball with the Padres. With the Reds in 2012 and 2013, the big right-hander averaged 92.7 and 92.5 MPH respectively with his fastball.

In 2014, Latos had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in the off-season. The major blow that season came in the spring, where he tore his cartilage and didn’t debut in 2014 until June 14th. He reportedly came back at only 80-90% healthy. The knee injury totally derailed him and his fastball only sat at 90.7 MPH.

It has been since that 2014 season that Latos’ velocity continues to stay between 90.7 to 91.4 MPH. Last season it was just at 90.8. In his start last night, which isn’t enough of a sample size to determine anything, a good sign was that Latos averaged around 91.8 MPH.

Velocity loss is something that naturally happens with every pitcher as they age, but especially so with tough knee injuries or arm injuries. If Latos is to re-establish himself as a major league starter, it’s obvious to say that he can no longer rely on just blowing his fastball by guys and getting away with mistakes.

Latos does have decent secondary stuff, but you can’t get to that stuff without good command and location of the fastball, but especially so with guys who don’t throw overly hard. I do feel that Latos will be able to somewhat remake himself as a starter. There were some good signs from his start last night. I see no reason why at only 29 years old, he can’t be an effective back of the rotation arm.

Next: Blue Jays: Bautista blast just what the doctor ordered

Mat Latos will get another start. Based on last night, if he can give 5-6 decent innings, they will not need to rush Happ or Sanchez back. For a team that desperately needs wins and fast, some stability until Happ and Sanchez are back will be needed and I feel Latos can be that stability.