I looked over the pitching staff and decided to hone in on the two starters performing furthest from where we would reasonably expect them to be over a full season. Bronson Arroyo may be performing just as far beyond expectations in the positive direction, but we can save that for another day.
As a sidebar, there are some curious cases among the bullpen too. Sam LeCure's 5.59 ERA to date won't stand, but we also don't know quite what to expect from him yet, with only roughly one season as a major league reliever under his belt and just 135.1 total MLB innings split as a reliever and starter. His peripherals were nice last year, but given the volatility of reliever performances, we can't necessarily expect a repeat of 2011.
Chapman and Ondrusek, meanwhile, won't keep stranding 100% of runners, but they could still remain the two best relievers in the pen.
By contrast, unless this season is a cruel joke, Latos and Leake will not remain your #4 and #5 starters. But should the first month revise our expectations at all?
2012 ERA/ERA+: 5.97/63 (28.2 IP)
Pre-2012 ERA/ERA+: 3.37/107 (429.2 IP)
There was a lot of innuendo before the season about Latos' stats suffering in the move from PetCo. We may be seeing some of that in the first month as his HR/FB rate moves from a suspiciously low 7.3% last season to his current 10.5%. Latos is not allowing more fly balls than usual, but more are going for home runs. He's also getting hit significantly harder during the first month, so it's hard to separate sub-par performance from the sustainable effects of ballpark. Since we're only talking about 3 home runs at GABP (plus one on the road), I'd say it's still inconclusive.
The stat that overlays of this is that Latos has historically struggled in the first month of the season. In 2011, His ERA was 4.98 through the end of April. In 2010, his best season, he was even worse on April 30 than he's been this season: 6.20. April has the distinction of being both the first full month of the season and, no matter how much meaning we try to inject into first impressions, only one month worth of games. This start isn't out of character for Mat, which means great things could lie ahead.
The bigger item than his HR% that jumps out to me is his K-rate. He's currently down around Bronson Arroyo territory. I don't expect this to continue, but Latos may not get back to the 8.5+ range if he isn't trusting his strikeout stuff for whatever reason.
His .330 BABIP (.284 is his previous high) could be a product of getting hit harder. Regardless of the luck/skill mix at work, it's pretty hard to buy at his talent level and smaller run environment. He's also stranding less runners than he ever has in a single season, so I think there's a real element of bad luck here reflected in his FIP, xFIP and SIERA.
However, with Latos' vulnerability so far to Bad Innings, his LOB% may be a product of something psychological. He's stranding less runners than he ever has (71% is his low), but there has been pattern of a snowball effect when Latos gets a runner on or suffers a bad call. It's been exacerbated struggles to hold runners, which has seemed to distract him from the a hitter, not to mention land runners in scoring position. He's allowed 9 stolen bases already.
Latos projected as a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher before the season and his in-season projections haven't pushed him above that mark. His home run rate is almost certainly going to be above where it was last season, but that should more than be compensated for missing more bats and getting weaker contact.
The only reason this improvement can't start happening right away is if Latos remains uncomfortable and un-trusting of his stuff. Not knowing his mind and the reasons behind hesitance with the slider, it's impossible to predict how and when that will play out.
2012 ERA/ERA+: 6.65/57 (21.2 IP)
Pre-2012 ERA/ERA+: 4.03/98 (306 IP)
Mike Leake has been living strikezone this season, but getting burned for it. That's usually the story whenever Leake is struggling. His groundball rate, at 36.7 %, is astounding low for a "Mike Leake type" pitcher, suggesting he's just not keeping the ball down and out of harm's way.
Leake's abnormally high BABIP is being floated by the highest opposing AVG of any Reds' pitcher. So it's hard to decode how unlucky he's been so far, but his strand rate is ridiculously low. On average, he's getting knocked around about every other inning, suggesting he's been punished for not having his stuff against the better half of a lineup. In any case, having more than 50% of runners score isn't sustainable at all.
Like Latos, Leake some early-season struggles in his past - though not as clear-cut. During parts of April and May last year, Leake was being obliterated in much the same way he's been so far this season - earning him a brief demotion to AAA. He stormed back to become the Reds' second-best starter last season.
Also like Latos, Leake isn't trusting his slider as much this season, even though he probably should. His early-season problems may have everything to do with the need to reestablish "feel" for his pitches.The pitch he's struggled most with so far is arguably his change-up. It's a pitch that has decent break and is easily mistaken for his sinker. If I had to guess, I'd think he's hanging it. It should make a huge difference once he gets it back.
There's always been talk about the league "figuring out" Leake, but with two solid seasons win the big leagues marked by brief bouts of chaos followed by recovery, I'm not sure how many more chess moves there are to make. As a 'feel' pitcher, Leake has a smaller margin for error. When he loses whatever chi he needs to succeed, it can get ugly.
While I'm less confident about him being below a 4.00 ERA than I was at the beginning of the season, I don't see anything radically different about this rough patch than the one he had in late 2010 or early 2011. He can go a long way in coming back to sanity just by scattering the hits.