Sell High takes a look at fantasy players who are performing above expectations and posting statistics well beyond their previously understood fantasy value. These players can be shopped via trade and, based on their currently inflated value, dealt to another fantasy owner for a profitable return. Today's Sell High focuses on San Diego Padres starting pitcher
Mat Latos is a big kid with a big fastball.
Wait, were you expecting more analysis of the struggling top-10 preseason starting pitchers for the Padres? To be honest, the first statement tells more of a story than you might think. As Mat Latos progressed through the minors, scouts raved about his mid-nineties fastball that could touch 97-mph. However, over the past three seasons his average velocity has dropped to under 92 mph. To go along with the declining fastball speeds, the hard slider that Latos throws also has lost velocity. While these stats can easily be found on the internet, trying to make sense of his performance moving forward is a whole different story.
On most fantasy baseball sites, Mat Latos finished the season ranked as a top-15 pitcher even with a horrible month of September where he just looked tired. Even with a great 2010 strikeout to walk ratio of 3.78, there were a few stats (77.4% LOB, spike in innings, and .216 batting average against) that had many experts predicting a slight regression this season. However, even a slight regression would have made Latos a top-20 fantasy baseball starter at worst. Then came the shoulder injury in spring training. We will never know if this injury was a direct result of the extra innings workload or not, but it is the most likely cause of the decreased velocity.
So what do we make of the stats that Mr. Latos has produced to this point in the season? Here are some of the important stats and how they compare to last year.
Two aspects of Mat Latos' 2011 performance are easy to spot with these numbers. First, Latos has not been lucky, nor has he been unlucky. In fact his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is right on pace, and his home run-to-fly ball (HR/FB) percentage is on pace with the league norm. I do need to clarify the HR/FB, however. To this point in the season, Latos has increased his fly ball percentage by 12.7% from 2010. If you mix the increased number of fly balls with the huge increase in home runs allowed, the league average 11.8% HR/FB percentage seems a bit misleading. Since home runs allowed is not an indicator of luck, but rather of skill, Latos still remains neutral in the luck department.
Second, the increase in his walk rate, and a slight increase in his batting average against, has inflated his WHIP to rival his 2009 numbers. Normally, this would not be a huge concern, but the statistic that changed most significantly since last year is his left on base percentage, otherwise known as the strand rate. The normal levels for LOB% usually hover around the low 70% area. This means the 77% Latos posted last year was higher than normal. However, this year it not only corrected itself, it went in the complete opposite direction. With the increased numbers of runners allowed this season, and the low strand rate, I think it is obvious where the increased ERA has come from. I won't get into a discussion involving whether LOB% is a measure of luck or not. But I will say this, it does not matter how good your defense is. If you walk more batters and allow more home runs per game, your ERA will skyrocket.
Where does this lead us for evaluating Mat Latos for the rest of the season? I hate to say it, but what you see is probably what you are going to get. All of the skill stats indicate that he has not been lucky. In fact, he is pitching much like he did in 2009. Grant it, both are small sample sizes, but it is all we have to look at. Yes, I think he will improve throughout the season, as long as his shoulder is not bothersome. By season's end, a low 4.00 ERA is most likely what you will see. This is certainly better than the current 4.86 that he is at now, but not nearly as good as the projected 3.25 ERA that many had projected for him coming into the season. As long as his strikeouts remain consistent, Latos will still be a solid pitcher. However, if there is an owner in your league that believes in the 2010 version of Latos, I would sell him at full price. Besides, it is not unheard of for a second year pitcher to struggle all season. Do I need to remind you about Rick Porcello