I love Tommy Hanson, don’t get me wrong, but if he comes off the board before round six, you can have him. I’ll get my ace elsewhere and I’ll get my version of Tommy Hanson light at the end of the draft. His name is Mat Latos and he brings his 6’6” frame, 95-plus mph heat and nasty curve/slider to one of the best pitchers parks in baseball.
Mat Latos started the 2009 season at high-A, but after a dominant 25.1 innings that included 27 strikeouts to only three walks, he was promptly promoted to AA. The domination didn’t exactly stop there.
In 47 innings Latos struck out 46 while walking only nine. In a combined 72.1 innings Latos posted a 6.08 K/BB rate. He would make his Major League debut on July 19, striking out six while walking one in four innings of work.
After a successful first five starts that included 23 strikeouts to nine walks and four wins, Latos hit a wall. Hitters made an adjustment and Latos struggled with leaving pitches up in the strike zone, or at least he wasn’t getting away with poor location anymore.
The result was seven home runs allowed in only 50.2 innings, a vast contrast to his low home run numbers in the minor leagues. This is an area that should look better in 2010 as he becomes more comfortable at the big league level and hits his spots like he did in the minors.
Also, in the minors Latos was known for getting more ground balls than fly balls. That didn’t show up in his limited Major League work last season, but it is something that should turn around in 2010.
The comparison to Tommy Hanson is not as crazy as it sounds. Hanson put up the higher strikeout rates at the AA and AAA levels and may have the higher ceiling, but there are many similarities.
Both pitchers bring a tall, lean 6’6” frame to the mound with an over the top delivery, though Hanson’s slot is slightly lower. This high angle creates a drastic downward flight path on their pitches and makes it difficult for hitters to pick up and identify the pitch right away. (images from Brooksbaseball.net )
Latos and Hanson both feature a heavy sinking mid-to-upper 90s fastball as well as a changeup and slider/curve. Latos throws slightly harder, but Hanson has better overall movement.
Both pitchers generate a good amount of swings and misses (about a 22 percent whiff rate for Latos and about 23 percent for Hanson) and both found hitters chasing pitches outside the strike zone 25.5 percent of the time, which is slightly above league average.
It is important to note the small sample size in Latos’ Major League numbers. While an unimpressive 1.7 K/BB rate leaves much to be desired, he did not throw enough Major League innings to settle in or have a chance to bounce back. After 61 innings at start Tommy Hanson’s big league career he had posted an even worse K/BB rate of 1.57. The chart below shows how Hanson got going after his first 61 innings.
The bottom line is that Latos has a good minor league track record and front-of-the-rotation stuff. Over a 150-plus inning sample, his numbers should look a lot better.
Of course one would be remised not to make a special mention of the home park that Latos will be pitching in. Petco is well known for aiding pitchers with its vast outfield walls. Pitching in the National League West won’t hurt either.
Last season the Padres leader in innings pitched, Kevin Correia, faced a quality opponent OPS of .728* (average OPS of batters faced). The National League average was .726 (min 150 IP). Only four of the 26 pitchers who faced an above average opponent OPS were from the National League West in 2009.
Even with all the similarities it is important to state that Tommy Hanson is the better prospect, has the higher ceiling and should have the better 2010 season. However, when you look at it in terms of round value, there is a chance Latos provides more value for cost.
Current data from Mock Draft Central has Hanson going early in round seven on average with a high pick of early round five. Latos, on the other hand, has an Average Dratf Position that puts him in round 25 with a high pick of round 19.
There is still plenty of time for both ADP’s to change before mid-March, but the huge gap in general expectations is clear. When it comes to the final few rounds of your 2010 draft or if you are looking for a dollar bargain in auction drafts, keep Latos in mind. You might just find big time value for your buck.
*Opponent Quality OPS data from Baseball Prospectus
Charlie Saponara is the owner/author of fantasybaseball365.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org