Not so long ago Latos used to be one of the première young power arms in the game and worked almost exclusively as fastball/slider pitcher. This was a good strategy, especially early in his career before being traded to Cincinnati, as his fastball averaged 94 mph and he had a very effective slider. That combination helped Latos to coax a .167 batting average against.
As often happens even without any injuries or outside changes, Latos began to lose velocity in his fastball and had to evolve as a pitcher. As so often happens as guys get more innings under their belts, their velocity may decrease but they also learn how to be better pitchers.
Taken as a snapshot in time in September of 2010, Latos average 95.41 mph on his fastball and threw it about 40% of the time. He threw the slider about 25% of the time at 84 mph. This small sample size shows Latos’ profile early in his career as primarily a two pitch guy who could compliment his stuff with a curveball (10%) and sinker/cutter (20%), but he lived off of his stuff. However, unless a pitcher is really lucky, has an incredibly strong-arm and somehow doesn’t get injured it is very hard to see a way for guy like Latos to be a power pitcher through the rest of his career.
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This brings us into a point made by Michael Jong at Fish Stripes where he said that the Marlins are emphasizing pitching to contact over guys with strikeout stuff.
Henderson Alvarez only mustered a 14.4 strikeout rate in 2014 but complimented with a 53.8 groundball rate. If one pitches to contact the best outcome would be a groundball; with a ball must be hit in play one would hope that it was on the ground. Pounding the strike zone, pitching to contact, and prioritizing high groundball rates seems to have worked for the Marlins the past few years. The addition of Mat Latos could help with that trend.
Latos in an injury shortened 2014 where he only posted 102.1 IP looked like a completely different player posting career lows in both K% (17.6) and BB% 6.2. He looked a lot more like Henderson Alvarez than early career Latos.
Latos’ repertoire was completely transformed in 2014, as he had worked a new splitter, threw the slider far less, and worked the cutter/sinker of the straight fastball.
This is particularly stark when you compare his 91.82 mph average on his fastball to what is close to 94 mph average over the rest of his career. When a pitcher loses his stuff he must adapt and a career low 4.12 whiff rate on his fourseam fastball meant that Latos would have to find a new way to get guys out namely with the splitter.
There is still comparatively little data on Latos’ splitter with him having only thrown 187 times in 2014. Keeping the small sample size in mind Latos was able to coax 41.0% groundball rate on ball in play with his splitter. Which might look promising as a start of a new approach for a guy that was formerly a power pitcher.
Much like with Nathan Eovaldi or Jacob Turner it is this approach of valuing throwing for strikes instead of missing bats that could work either for or against Latos in Miami. Marlins Park is very pitcher friendly, but there is also a lot of room for balls to drop in play. These factors along with the questionable quality of the Marlins infield defense could set Latos up for a nightmare year of bad BABIP luck.
I don’t think that the drop in velocity is necessarily a bad thing for Latos the injuries only forced him to do inevitable. For pitchers to survive they must adapt and there’s much worse things than being a guy that pitches to contact in Marlin Park with Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton patrolling the outfield.