Last night, Mat Latos struck out 13 Brewers and went the distance. He became the first Reds' pitcher since Ron Villone (2000) to record at least thirteen Ks in a complete game effort. He became just the 33rd pitcher in Reds history to strike out 13 or more in a game - joining the likes of Vander Meer, Soto and a lot of Jim Maloneys. And, OK, Edinson Volquez.
Volquez, who is admittedly still beating Latos in both regular and park/league-adjusted ERA, has yet to pitch a game this season as brilliant as Latos did last night. Last night was a guided tour of why the Reds gave up Volquez and more for Mat Latos - the belief that he has the kind of talent to do that more than once in a season. Without doing this hardly ever.
It's also true that Volquez also has not hit the same valley lows as Latos this season. Latos has had three outings with Game Scores below 30. By comparison, Tim Lincecum has had just one. And it should go without saying that Mat Latos is a much better pitcher than Tim Lincecum (6.07 ERA).
Latos' peak potential hasn't changed since he was traded. Last night was the clearest "Look What I Can Do" moment he's given to his new team. But does it mean the pitcher we saw in Cleveland is no longer hiding around the corner? Villone's ERA was 5.34 the year he pitched that 13 K gem. Latos isn't Villone, but flashes of brilliance can still remain flashes.
One of the most encouraging things about Latos' season to date is that, by strikeout and walk rates, he's exactly the pitcher the Reds traded for. He's not quite at his 2010 levels, but there's no reason to think he couldn't be soon:
vs. RHB: .196/.259/.353
vs. LHB: .313/.368/.599
Latos is as good as he's ever been against righties - even slightly better than he was in 2010 - while being orders of magnitude worse than he's even been against lefties. Lefties have hit 71% of the HRs Latos has given up this season.
Regressing that number to be in proportion with the number he's given up to righties (and rounding up to be conservative) would give Latos just 12 HRs on the year (vs. his actual 17). That works out to a more palatable 1.22 HR/9 and a 4.29 ERA. If you assume Latos also has some more outings ahead of him in the neighborhood of what he did last night, then he could land somewhere between his 2010 and 2011 selves. Which is to say, quite possibly the best #2 starter in the NL.
It's not a satisfying to an answer-hungry brain, but sometimes there's a lot of noise and unexplained things at work between players' seasons. Zack Greinke was traded to Milwaukee before 2011 and despite having off-the-chart K and BB rates last season, his HR-rate rose to his pre-Cy levels and ERA was pedestrian. This season, he's allowed just 3 HRs to date and has a sub-3.00 ERA.
For recently-traded pitchers, it could be a general need for adjustment to new surroundings. Maybe it's something weirder, like being easier to read their pitches when a they wear red.
The knee-jerk reaction on Latos is that it's the ballpark, stupid. But Latos has been getting hit harder by lefties on non-HR balls, while pitching much worse on the road. The problem has been primarily handedness, not the dimensions of GABP.
Last night's dominating performance showed that the problem may be getting fixed - or Latos will be so good in the second half we might not care about a few extra HRs against lefties. His use of the slider - especially against lefties - suggests the former.
Either way, Twitter just got slightly more civil.