By: Noah Wright
In the early 2010’s, Mat Latos could have been considered a top 15 pitcher in the MLB. Consistently, he put up good ERA’s, and 190-200 innings. Then, something happened. He seemed to hit a brick wall. He hasn’t played a game in the MLB since 2017, and that made many question, what happened to Mat Latos?
Back in 2006, the Padres used their 11th round pick to grab a right hander from Coconut Creek High School named Mat Latos. Latos quickly moved up through the Padres minor league system. Starting as a 19 year old, Latos’ minor league career started in the Padres Low-A ball affiliate during 2007. He did decent, recording a 3.83 ERA, 2.69 FIP, and 1.420 WHIP in 56 and a third innings. He only gave up 1 home run, 22 walks, and struck out 74 batters. In 2008, Latos showed much improvement in his game. He lowered his ERA FIP to 2.57 and 2.52. His control was much better, having only walked 13 batters in 56 innings. Mat also kept a similar strikeout rate to the year prior (11.8) at 11.1. Latos started to gain some prospect status around this time as well. Entering 2008, Baseball prospectus ranked him at #61/100, and entering 2009, he was ranked #69/100. Then in 2009, after having a 1.37 ERA, a .747 WHIP and 1.5 BB/9 rate between Single-A and Double-A ball, Latos completely skipped Triple-A, and went to the MLB. While his first 50 and two thirds innings of his career weren't impressive (4.62 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 1.303 WHIP), Latos was just 21 years old in his rookie debut.
In 2010, Latos was a main fixture of the Padres rotation. He showed off some of that talent he had in the minors, now in the majors. In 184 and two thirds innings, Latos recorded a 2.92 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 1.083 WHIP in 184 and two thirds innings. Plus, he got a lot of swings and misses indicated by his 9.2 K/9 rate, but he was a control pitcher as well, with just a 2.4 BB/9 rate and .8 HR/9 rate. Latos’ overall impressive season even landed him a few Cy Young votes, and finishing 8th overall in voting. While he wasn’t as impressive in 2011, he still had a solid 3.47 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and 1.184 WHIP. However he did improve some things. Though he pitched in 9 and two thirds innings more in 2011 than in 2010, he gave up the same amount of home runs, 16. Latos also learned how to give up less hard hit balls, reducing his hard hit rate from 30.4% his breakout season to 24.9 the next, while inducing 25.6% soft contact compared to 17.9% in 2010. Then after the 2011 season, the Padres dealt off a then 24 year old Mat Latos. 2 days after his birthday on December 9th, the Friars delt Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal, and Yonder Alonso.
In 2012, his first season in a Reds uniform, Latos performed similarly to 2011 with the Padres. He had a 3.48 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 1.161 WHIP. But it wasn’t all great in Cincy for Latos. His K/9 rate dropped again, having been 9.2 his breakout year, 8.6 in ‘11, and now dropping to 8.0 in 2012. His home run rate also ticked up to 1.1 HR/9. Latos’ hard hit rate spiked back up to 29.3%, while his soft contact rate went to 14.4%. But he did reach 209 and a third innings, marking the first time he reached 200+ innings in a season in his career. His walk rate also remained consistent at 2.8, the third straight full season of it being below 3.0. Latos then went on to bounce back in many categories in 2013. His ERA went from 3.48 to 3.16, while he lowered his FIP to 3.10, and home run rate dropped to a career low, .6 HR/9. Again, he reached 200+ innings, having pitched in 210 and two thirds total. He kept the same K/9 rate from 2012, 8.0, but his walk rate again stayed under 3.0 at 2.5. 2014 would be a bit of a rough year for Latos, but not because of performance reasons. He still carried a solid ERA, FIP, and WHIP (3.25/3.65/.1.153, lowest WHIP of his career), and reached a career low walk rate (2.3 BB/9). But he only pitched in 16 games, and 100 and two thirds total innings. He missed most of the first half of the season after having bone chips removed from his elbow (which actually prevented him from starting the 2013 Wild Card Game against the Pirates), and then tearing cartilage in his left knee during spring training.
After the 2014 season, Latos was traded for the second time in his career. This time, he was sent to the Miami Marlins for Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach. This is one of many moves the Marlins made that off season in an attempt to compete for a playoff spot. Regardless of how the team did overall, Latos definitely didn’t help, and this was the start of the end for the then 27 year old. With the Marlins, Latos pitched in 112 and two thirds innings. He had a poor 4.95 ERA, and career high 1.245 WHIP. Strangely enough, he still remained useful in terms of FIP, at 3.41, and kept a 2.5 BB/9 rate, which fell right in line with his career average. His K/9 rate also rebounded to 7.7. Though with some solid perferials, he wasn’t having a great year. He was then traded to the LA Dodgers at the July deadline with Mike Morse in a three team trade between the Braves, Dodgers, and Marlins. That’s when his overall performance took a nosedive. He only played in 6 games (5 starts) and 88 and a third innings with the Dodgers, but they had seen enough. Latos’ ERA reached the Devil's number, 6.66. His FIP raised to 4.00, and WHIP went up to 1.521. His K/9 went down a whole strikeout. Through all of this, he still remained good at limiting free passes, giving up only 6. After he was released by the Dodgers, he was picked up by the Angels in late September, and pitched in 3 and two thirds uninspiring innings. Overall, Latos had finished 2015 with a disastrous 4.95 ERA. His FIP remained below 4 at 3.72, and he still managed to record a 2.5 walks per 9. But his slide in ERA was the first stat to plummet. After the 2015 season, the Chicago White Sox picked up Mat Latos to a one year deal, and Latos seemed to have regained some of the talent he showed in seasons prior. Sure, through is first 29 and two thirds innings, his FIP was 4.38, but his ERA was only 1.84. He had only walked 8 batters, and kept opponents to just a .632 OPS. But that was one of the few highlights of that season. After April, Latos went on to post a disastrous 7.26 ERA, 6.64 FIP, and an opponent OPS of .934 in the rest of his White Sox tenure (31 innings post April). After that, he was released by the White Sox in mid-June. Nearing the end of June, the Washington Nationals gave Latos a deal. He looked about the same from May-onward with the White Sox. In 9 and two thirds innings innings, having a 6.52 ERA, 3.97 FIP, and 1.655 WHIP. He lost the ability to limit free passes, giving up a total of 5 in the Nationals Capital. In total, Latos only pitched in 70 innings that season, finishing with a 4.89 ERA, 5.32 FIP, and 1.486 WHIP. He allowed 3.9 walks per 9, and had also lost the ability to strike batters out at a decent rate, as his K/9 dropped to 5.4. He had also given up 11 home runs. Now, Latos was a 29 year old right handed pitcher without a team. The Toronto Blue Jays have been the last team to give Mat Latos a chance at the bigs when they signed him to a minor league deal in 2017. In just 15 innings, Latos had given up 11 earned runs, 5 home runs, and 8 walks to oppose 10 strikeouts. He was released by late May.
This past season, Latos played with the New Jersey Jackals, an independent team part of the Canadian-American Association (also known as the Can-Am Division). He actually didn’t do bad. In 76 and a third innings, Latos had a 3.18 ERA, 2.95 FIP, and 1.271 WHIP. He was striking out batters at a 10.3 per 9 rate, and only gave up 5 home runs. Though, he still hasn’t regained the control he once had, but he did record a 3.7 BB/9 rate, showing that he did improve some. However recently, Latos was in the news in late September this year after his ex-girlfriend filed for a restraining order against the right hander after she allegedly received threats from him.
It’s strange to think that a pitcher that was once a #2 rotation arm on a decent team not that long ago is now only 30, and pitching in an independent league. But what caused such a dramatic drop in performance. One thing that could have caused it is the abdominal strain he pitched through part of 2013 with. Maybe he injured it too much, and hurt something that never fully healed. It could have been from the elbow and knee surgeries he had back in 2013-2014. Maybe he never recovered 100% from those procedures. It could also be just another victim of Steve Blass disease: when a pitcher just all of a sudden, with no real explanation goes from a good pitcher to a bad pitcher in just a season or two. We may never really know which it was, but regardless, there is no denying that Latos is one of the biggest drop offs in recent MLB history.