Ace Analysis: Pomeranz and Latos

AceAnalysis Logo1The goal of the Ace Analysis series will be to analyze pitchers whose most recent performance has either not met with or has exceeded expectations and try to determine whether the results are due to skill change, or simply a run of good/bad luck. I will analyze both struggling aces and unheralded players showing signs of a breakout. As always, I do take requests, so if there is a specific player you would like me to take a look at, please let me know in the comment section.

We finally have some real data to look at, but the sample sizes are still really small. At this stage of the season, knee jerk reactions must be avoided at all costs. This week, we will take a look at two widely available starters who some analysts have tabbed as potential 2016 breakouts. Perhaps these pitchers would make good additions for your roster.

Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres

2016
IP Wins K’s ERA WHIP
11 1 15 3.27 1.18
Currently owned in 21% of Y! leagues

Drew Pomeranz was once an elite prospect and a very popular fantasy breakout candidate. He has been able to find success as a reliever, but has not been given a prolonged opportunity as a starter at the major league level since 2012. The hype has dimmed considerably over the last couple years, but now Pomeranz finds himself locked into the starting rotation for the Padres in one of the most pitcher friendly home environments in baseball. Given his situation and his fast start, we must take a look at see if he is worth owning.

The Arsenal

Pomeranz has an awesome four seam fastball. He only hits the low 90’s on the radar gun, but he gets nice late movement and he has actually been able to maintain a swinging strike rate above 10% on his four seamer. He also mixes in a two seam fastball that generates decent ground ball rates, but is not nearly as effective. The two fastballs together comprise between 60 and 65% of Pomeranz’s total pitch count.

His best pitch is a nasty knuckle curveball that he uses about 30% of the time. The curve offers elite ground ball rates and above average swinging strike rates. Pomeranz has also shown a seldom used changeup and he appears to be working on a cutter, but he is not yet comfortable enough with either pitch to use it more than a couple of times a game. His lack of variety is the main reason that the A’s opted to use him out of the bullpen. That has not yet changed.

Ks and BBs

Pomeranz four seam fastball and knuckle curve generally account for between 75 and 80% of his pitches. Since both have healthy swinging strike rates above 10%, it follows that Pomeranz will have a strong K rate. He has been able to maintain a career K rate of 21.3%. Although his best K rates have come from the bullpen (as expected) Pomeranz has the stuff to get close to a strikeout an inning. Obviously the current K rate of 33% is going to regress, but owners should expect a K/9 in the neighborhood of 8.50.

Pomeranz has never had serious walk issues, but his walk rate is far from elite. Over the past couple seasons, he has posted walk rates around 9%, which have roughly translated to K/BB ratios near 2.50. While that is not a terrible ratio, it isn’t exactly ideal for a guy who relies on two pitches. For Pomeranz to take the next step, he has to get his walk rate down. Generally speaking, he pitches in the zone frequently enough to limit walks, but he sometimes has a tough time getting ahead of batters. Last season, he posted a career high F-Strike% of 58.8, so there is some reason for optimism in this department. So far this season, he has issued 6 walks in 11 innings. Owners will need to keep an eye on that.

Batted Ball Data

Over the last couple seasons, Pomeranz has done a pretty good job limiting hard contact with a HC rate of 25%. He has managed an above average BABIP despite a relatively average batted ball mix overall. Opposing batters have a very difficult time squaring up the knuckle curve.

Pomeranz has also posted league average home run rates and close to league average HR/FB rates over the course of his career. He has not displayed any special skills in this area, although he has the potential to be an elite ground ball pitcher with his knuckle curve. Owners should expect a BABIP in the .280 – .300 range and an average home run rate. Petco Park won’t offer a significant advantage over what Pomeranz had to work with in Oakland.

Pomeranz’s ERA indicators have all been in the mid to high 3’s over the last two years. Given his league average batted ball profile, they should provide us with a pretty good baseline for his expected performance moving forward. The only question is whether he is good enough to make it through the batting order a third time.

Split Stats

The split we are going to focus on here is the starter/reliever split. For his career, Pomeranz ERA as a starter (4.54) is more than double his ERA as a reliever (2.14). Some of that is due to his rough beginnings with the Rockies, but this is still pretty concerning.

Last season, he pitched about half of his innings as a starter and he simply was not as effective. His K/9 was just 7.25 and his ERA was 4.63. He suffered from some pretty nasty strand rate luck (59.6%), but the diminished K rate is very alarming. The good news is that in 2014, he actually performed better as a starter. This was a fairly small sample size of just over 50 innings, but he was able to maintain a K rate of 8.60 and an ERA of 2.58 with a 1.13 WHIP. He was the beneficiary of some excellent batted ball luck during that stretch, but it is good to see that he has had success as a starter in the past.

Final Conclusions

Pomeranz has two outstanding pitches, but the jury is still out on whether they are good enough for him to last as a starter. We know he can get the job done out of the bullpen. Here are my projections for 2016:

  • IP: 150
  • GS: 25
  • ERA: 3.80
  • WHIP: 1.25
  • Wins: 8
  • Ks: 140

Personally, I think Pomeranz should be owned in more leagues than he is at the moment. He is not going to take any huge leaps forward unless he develops a third pitch or significantly reduces his walk rate, but what he has may already be good enough. He has proven the ability to get major league hitters out, now let’s see if he can do it multiple times through the batting order. My guess is that he will be effective enough to be a low-end fantasy option.



Mat Latos, Chicago White Sox

2016
IP Wins K’s ERA WHIP
12 2 6 0.75 0.50
Currently owned in 16% of Y! leagues

It was not too long ago that Mat Latos was a fantasy mainstay as an SP2. During the 2015 draft season, he was widely considered to be a top 25 starting pitcher. After a season full of struggles and injury in 2015 and a move to a hitter friendly AL park, Latos was not even on the fantasy radar heading into 2016. Now that he has posted back to back high quality starts, it is time to take a closer look and see if Mat Latos should be on more fantasy rosters.

The Arsenal

Latos is a rather unique pitcher. He offers 4 different types of fastballs that he uses in combination with a curve, a change, and a slider all delivered with a straight over the top motion. For those counting at home, that is 7 pitches!

During his peak years, Latos averaged between 92 and 94 on his four seam fastball, which has been his most frequently thrown pitch. Last year, he was down to 91.4 MPH, and although SP velocities are generally lowest in April, he is sitting at 89.9 right now. Over the last two years his 4 seam fastball has not been extremely effective. For this reason, we have seen him start to throw more cutters and splitters.

In the early going this year, Latos is actually throwing his cutter more often than any other pitch (23.1%) and his four seam fastball just 17.5%. What is most exciting is his increased usage of the splitter. Although seldom used, Latos’ splitter was easily his best pitch in 2015, both by wOBA against (.207) and swinging strike rate (23.5%). Latos also generates an extremely high ground ball rate on the pitch. This year, he is throwing the splitter almost as often as the 4 seamer. That looks like a very good thing. The last fastball in Latos’ arsenal is a two seamer. He has never really used it that often, but it has been fairly effective and it gives hitters a slightly different look.

In years past, Latos’ best off speed pitch has been his slider. He has not used it very often in 2016 (9.3%), but the slider has always been his best strikeout pitch. Latos also has a slow curve that has proven to be an effective offering and a changeup that he mixes in occasionally (less than 5%), but has been hit pretty hard over the years.

While Latos does not boast any elite pitches, he has many different weapons to choose from. If he can regain a little velocity, his overall arsenal is definitely strong enough to get back to his old form.

Ks and BBs

Mat Latos has always had excellent command. Over the last 3 seasons he posted walk rates between 6.2% and 6.6%. Owners should expect similar numbers in 2016. He does a good job getting ahead of hitters with a 61.6 career F-Strike% and he has historically been able to get hitters to chase about 33% outside the zone. So far this season, Latos has walked just 2 batters.

What’s less certain is the strikeout rates. His K rate had been trending down, from 25.3% in 2010 all the way to 17.6% in 2014. Last season, despite his struggles elsewhere, Latos posted a 20.2% K rate. Not surprisingly, Latos’ K rate has fluctuated with his fastball velocity. In 2014, his average fastball was clocked at 90.7 MPH. He re-gained some velocity in 2015 (91.4), and the strikeouts came back with it.

The early indications are that Latos could be in for another light year in the K department. Through his first two starts, his velocity is sitting at just 89.9 MPH. He has managed 6 Ks over his first 12 innings (13.6%). The hope is that as the season wears on, he gets a little velocity back and can get back over 91 MPH. Additionally, Latos’ low slider usage in his first outings could also explain why he has had a tough time missing bats. Given his current velocity and pitch mix, however, there is nothing fluky about the 13.6% K rate. Latos’ swinging strike rate so far is just 6.6%. If current trends continue, he will be lucky to post a K/9 above 6.0.

As solid as Latos can be, it is very difficult to imagine him having any sustained fantasy value with a strikeout rate this low. Fantasy owners should track his velocity, and usage of the slider and splitter. If the velocity rebounds, slider usage increases and splitter usage remains high, he should be able to strike out about 7.5 per 9.

Batted Ball Data

In 2015, Latos had an ERA of 4.95, but his xFIP was just 3.69, which was right in line with numbers from some of his best seasons. When looking at his numbers, his BABIP of .307 was above the career norm for Latos, who generally has a pretty average batted ball distribution. Last season, however, he allowed far more line drives than normal (24.2%), so I would not say that his BABIP was unlucky. He also allowed a few more home runs than normal, with an 11.6% HR/FB rate and 1.01 HR/9. Both these marks were above career averages, but not by enough to explain an ERA that was 1.26 higher than his xFIP.

The culprit here appears to be an extremely low strand rate (63.8%). While Latos did allow a few more baserunners than normal, his inability to get out of jams really caused the ERA to skyrocket.

Interestingly, his start to 2016 has been quite the opposite. Anytime you see a pitcher with a WHIP of .50, you know they are getting some serious batted ball luck. Latos is currently living off an otherworldly .114 BABIP and 85.7% strand rate. While he has done an outstanding job avoiding hard contact, the BABIP is sure to rise dramatically. It is only two starts, but due to the utter lack of strikeouts, Latos’ xFIP sits at a robust 5.32. If he does not find a way to get a few more Ks, he will have a difficult time keeping the ERA under 4.00. He does not appear to have any special BABIP suppressing talents.

Injuries

Latos stayed relatively healthy over his first 4 full seasons in the majors, but his luck changed in 2014. He underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in the offseason, then tore cartilage in his left knee during spring training. The knee issue kept him out until mid June, and he was never really right upon returning. Although his ERA and WHIP numbers remained strong, his velocity and K rates hit career lows. His season finally ended in early September with a bone bruise on his pitching elbow.

Latos missed more time with knee issues in 2015. DL stints and poor performance limited him to just 116 innings in 2015. I would like to tell you that the knee issues are behind him, but Latos tends to land awkwardly on his landing leg on every pitch. Check out August Fagerstrom’s article for more details on that.

Final Conclusions

Latos carries a good deal of injury risk due to the knee, but I think he is too talented and young to completely ignore. Owners with an extra roster spot should consider making the add, but I am not quite ready to endorse him as more than a spot starter. His performance will be determined by whether or not he can gain velocity, and whether he uses an optimal pitch mix. Listed below are my projection for Mat Latos’ season:

  • IP: 150
  • ERA: 4.00
  • WHIP: 1.28
  • Wins: 9
  • Ks: 115

 

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Tommy Landseadel
Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel
Tommy Landseadel

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