Mat Latos: Can He Make the Jump to Cincinnati Reds Staff Ace?

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Mat Latos: Can He Make the Jump to Cincinnati Reds Staff Ace?
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Mat Latos came to Cincinnati in one of the most talked about trades from the 2011-12 offseason. While the Reds gave up a major haul of prospects for him, Latos proved he was worth it.

In 33 starts, Latos pitched to a 14-4 record with a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and had 185 K to 64 walks in 209.1 innings pitched.

Early on, Latos struggled—allowing 19 earned runs in his first 28.2 innings pitched. Those 28.2 innings spanned five starts and the entire month of April.

If you subtract out this month, Latos is a 13-2 pitcher with a 3.09 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 167 strikeouts in 180.2 innings pitched.

Struggling early in the season with a new team in a new stadium in a new city is hardly unexpected, and Latos' performance after that first month was very good to say the least.

I'm here to argue that not only can Mat Latos make the jump to ace status, but that he already has.

Latos was the best pitcher on the Reds starting staff in the second half of the season.

In his 16 second-half starts, Latos pitched to a 7-2 record with a 2.84 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 87 strikeouts to 34 walks in 104.2 innings pitched.

Johnny Cueto, who is widely perceived as both a Cy Young candidate and the Reds ace, pitched to a 9-4 record with a 3.26 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 79 strikeouts to 22 walks in 96.2 innings pitched. 

Latos is set to turn 25 years old in less than two months, so he's pretty well established, but how does he compare to other staff aces?

Here's a blind comparison of second-half numbers, as well as full season values from staff aces around the league.

Player
W L IP ERA WHIP HR SO BB BAa OBPa SLGa
A
9
5
97.2
2.86
1.15 5 89 34
.219
.291 .309
B
8 3
105.2
2.73
1.19 8 111 30 .238 .295 .349
C
7 2
99
3.00 1.14 9 75 27
.238
.296 .366
D
9
1 99.1 2.27
.987
6 100 22
.212 .260 .291
E 8 4 107 2.10 .981 5 110 31 .197 .262 .288
F 8 5 113.2 3.09 1.18 15 107 28 .250 .300 .399
Mat Latos  7  2 104.2
 2.84 1.12
8 87
34
.219 .285 .327

Just based solely on these statistics, Latos fares well. He finished the second half with the fourth lowest ERA of the seven pitchers, and his WHIP, BAa, OBPa and SLGa all rank in the top three.

Going down this chart, pitchers A-F are Gio Gonzalez, Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey.

Can Mat Latos be a staff ace?

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Important to remember in this comparison is the fact that Mat Latos is pretty young compared to most of these guys. The only one younger than him is Clayton Kershaw, and only by a matter of months.

Mat Latos is getting better and better before our eyes. His peripheral stats (BB/9, H/9, WHIP, RA/9 and ERA+ per Baseball-Reference) were all improvements on his 2011 season in San Diego, and his second half numbers this season really attest to this.

In addition to these peripheral stats, Latos posted his best 162-game W-L percentage of .517, RAR (runs above replacement) at 46, WAR of 4.2, and WPA+ of 17.1.

Latos also suffered four losses that, according to Baseball-Reference, were blown by the bullpen.

If Latos were an 18-4 pitcher, he'd be getting a lot more recognition for what he did both over the course of this season, and more so in the second half.

The only real disappointment from Latos' season was his quality start-percentage of 55 percent. A pitcher of Latos' quality should have a far better percentage, but given his previous two years' percentages of 65, 68, I'd chalk this year up as an anomaly.

In any event, Mat Latos is evolving into a staff ace. He's ahead of many players I compared him to when they were in their age-24 seasons and he's still getting better.

It may take the entire 2013 season for it to come to fruition, but he's certainly improving at a good solid pace.

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