Another look at Mat Latos' splits

Just be mindful of negative energy imbalance and you'll be totally ready for the playoffs.

In late July, Latos was turning a corner on his season. He had just fanned 13 Brewers in a complete-game gem and his strikeout and walk-rates were getting very close to where they'd been the past two seasons.

He was, however, struggling mightily with his platoon splits. It looked like there might be a flaw in his delivery that lefties were picking up:

vs. RHB: .196/.259/.353
vs. LHB: .313/.368/.599

Since then, his splits have eased a little. Through his start on Friday, they show that he's been a little stingier against righties and significantly improved against lefties. There's still a difference, but it's not as wide:

vs RHB: .209/.263/.351
vs LHB: .263/.329/.471

Friday's disaster notwithstanding, this is an encouraging sign. Latos has one more start in August to cap off the month as his best of the season - in both ERA and opponents' OPS. It hasn't been steadily downward in both categories every month of 2012, but the overall trend has been improvement. He's the bending the curve.

It's easy to forget that his meltdown against the Cardinals was essentially One Bad Inning syndrome - especially when that inning is the most recent one he's pitch AND against the Reds' division rivals.

Latos' home/away splits continue to stymie anyone looking to blame his struggles on a change of address. They're basically even now - after favoring home games for much of the season - but there's still little indication that what's holding Latos back is closer fences. Latos' ERA at GABP is still below his overall season mark

Other than left-handed hitters, I think Latos' is suffering from a few problems areas that might be filed under "maturity issues" or "adjusting to new scenery, while in a pennant race." It's strictly pop pseudoscience to say Latos gets too in his head sometimes, but he is often visibly irked when he's in a jam or when hitters are seeing him better the second or third time through the order.

That can lead to some crooked innings:

  • Hitters slash .217/.397/.467 in 2 out, RISP stiuations against Latos. I'd chalk this up to some bad luck and possibly also: preoccupation with holding runners, difficulty pitching out of the stretch and some difficulty focusing in pressure situations.
  • He's had some real trouble in the middle innings of games. The 6th inning has been the worst, with a 6.16 ERA and hitters going .343/.408/.687 against him. He's allowed a .306/.370/.510 line and a 4.25 ERA n innings 4-6. This could have something to do with lefties having a second chance at him after they've scouted his "tell" (if it exists) in the first go-around. It might also be Latos' trouble managing his first rough patch of the game after blowing through the order once or twice.
  • He's been better in 3-1 counts than 3-2. This could strictly be a blip, but if my crackpot theory is correct, he's getting freaked out by the "Full Count."

There was some concern earlier in the season that Latos might not be trusting his slider as much as he had in the past. But he's now up to throwing it 24% of the time (exactly his career average). The slider has held hitters to a .216 wOBA, pretty much right where it was during his first two full seasons in San Diego.

The single pitch Latos has gotten pounded the most is on off-speed pitches up and out over the plate, especially to lefties. He's also gotten hit harder on his two-seam/sinker, despite getting it to sink about as much as he has in the past. It's possible he's leaving his change-ups up in the zone, while he's getting punished more for mistakes on his sinker in a smaller park.

It's also possible these pitches are part of a "tell" his giving away to left-handed hitters. Whatever the case, it doesn't seem like a huge problem - at least not one that can't be addressed by ironing out his mechanics.

Latos is 24, still maturing as a major league pitcher. Still learning how to keep a lid on Big Innings and what to throw - to who - when he's in trouble. Adjusting for park, he's still having a better year than 2011. With the month he's had, you'd take him as your #2 in the playoffs, wouldn't you?

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