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Mat Latos is an interesting buy-low free agent candidate for the Rockies' 2016 rotation

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Mat Latos' 2015 was a disaster, but it leaves him as an intriguing buy-low candidate during free agency this winter.

Mat Latos is an interesting free agent candidate for a team needing starting pitching.
Mat Latos is an interesting free agent candidate for a team needing starting pitching.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Judging by the past year, nobody is bound to get too excited when Mat Latos' name comes up in free agent talks this winter. His 2015 season was miserable, he endured a trade from the Marlins to the Dodgers, and he ended up being so bad in less than 25 innings for Los Angeles that he was designated for assignment before season's end and finished the year down the road in Anaheim.

When the dust settled, Latos' combined 2015 stats were a nightmare for a pitcher who, up until this summer, had been solid over his first six big league seasons. Now, he must rebuild his value somewhere. In doing so, Latos represents a very interesting buy-low candidate that should attract several big league clubs looking for cheap starting pitching in an increasingly expensive market.

The Colorado Rockies are one of the clubs that ought to kick the tires on the right-handed pitcher; for that reason — explained much more below — Mat Latos is the second installment in our series profiling potential free agents the Rockies should be tracking. Granted, Latos is extremely different from the first pitcher profiled in this series, but he nevertheless could fit in Colorado.

Scouting Mat Latos

When I say Latos' career derailed in 2015, here's what I mean:

Org (Seasons) G-GS IP H R ER BB HR K W-L ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K:BB
SD ('09-'11) 72-72 429.2 361 174 161 135 39 413 27-29 3.37 3.28 1.154 108 7.6 0.8 2.8 8.7 3.06
CIN ('12-'14) 81-81 522.1 468 211 192 148 48 446 33-16 3.31 3.51 1.179 118 8.1 0.8 2.6 7.7 3.01
MIA, LAD, LAA (2015) 24-21 116.1 120 67 64 32 13 100 4-10 4.95 3.72 1.307 78 9.3 1.0 2.5 7.7 3.13
Totals (7 yrs) 177-174 1068.1 949 452 417 315 100 959 64-55 3.51 3.44 1.183 108 8.0 0.8 2.7 8.1 3.04

After more than two good seasons in San Diego, and three years better years in Cincinnati — a ballpark that tends to favor hitters — the right-handed pitcher from Fort Lauderdale may have thought he struck it rich when the Reds traded him to Miami before 2015. After all, he wasn't only going home, but leaving a hitter's park for the friendlier confines of south Florida's humidity and massive outfield. It didn't turn out that way.

Here's Latos talking to reporters about some of the struggles he endured in 2015, specifically discussing his focus on throwing off-speed pitches and how he believes that's hurt his results:

The interview is insightful, but it doesn't bear out what Latos was actually throwing. Even though he discussed the need to throw more fastballs and less breaking pitches, Latos actually threw his fastball at the second-highest rate of his entire career in 2015 (not counting a partial 2009 season).

Latos also threw his second-fewest rate of both sliders and curveballs this past summer, but there was one wild card: he developed what FanGraphs considered a split-fingered fastball in 2015, throwing it more than 11% of the time. That may be the off-speed pitch Latos is referring to, since it's the only notable non-fastball pitch he threw with that rate of consistency. Based on pitch values, it was also by far the worst pitch in his repertoire in 2015.

If 2015 is a one-off in terms of his ineffective splitter, and Latos scraps the pitch in favor of more fastballs and a renewed focus on his slider and curve, things may improve in a hurry for the big right-hander. However, there's also his declining velocity to note, too; at not even 28-years old, Latos' average fastball was nearly three miles per hour slower in 2015 (91.4 mph) than it was when he broke into the league (94.1 mph).

Latos has also dealt with knee and shoulder injuries in his career — specifically in 2014, his final year in Cincinnati — and it may be in part due to his mechanics, which may be informing his consistent decreases in velocity over time. Here's an interesting video that's fairly critical of Latos' mechanics from 2014:

Latos has an interesting hitch in the bottom of his arm swing, but perhaps more concerning — at least if he doesn't correct the mechanics of his lead leg — is Latos' health and effectiveness relative to his lack of leg drive and hip rotation. That lack of leg drive and stiff front side undoubtedly exposed his left knee to injury, and leaves Latos throwing without his lower half, which would likely account for his decline in velocity over the last six years.

Here's footage of Latos this summer; it appears as though he's landing slightly softer on his front leg, and doesn't stiffen it quite as radically as his body comes through to the plate. (Granted, it's unfortunately not a very long video.) Nevertheless, it's worth noting that he also hasn't appeared to have significantly changed his (lack of) leg drive:

Here is more general Latos video from the last season, if you're interested in his mechanics and look and are unfamiliar with him (apologies for the random vid & music, it's about the only sustained Mat Latos 2015 highlight video I can find):

The case for the Rockies to pursue Mat Latos

Latos profiles as the perfect buy-low candidate. For that, the Rockies would conceivably be in on him as they (likely) search for a veteran starter to fill out their rotation this year until prospects can arrive and survive in Denver. Latos is also likely seeking a short (one- or two-year) deal, since he's coming off the worst season of his career and will want to build back value before testing the free agent waters again in 2017 or 2018.

Considering Latos will be just 28 years old when the season starts, he's an interesting free agent — a cheap option with relatively low market interest from an awful year, and yet he holds a consistent track record — that the Rockies would do well to consider for a season or (at most) two.

Statistically, Latos has historically succeeded in several areas — even in his down year in 2015 — that would profile well for Coors Field. He doesn't walk many people, allowing just 2.7 free passes per nine innings over his career (and only 2.5 per nine in his brutal 2015 stint). He also doesn't get hit overly hard, giving up just 0.8 home runs per nine innings over his career (and an even 1.0 per nine innings in 2015), and fewer than a hit an inning (8.0 per nine) over the last seven seasons. He's also missed bats fairly well for a starting pitcher, striking out 8.1 hitters per nine innings and whiffing three batters for every walk across more than one thousand Major League innings.

Having made $9.4 million in his blow-up season this past summer, Latos will likely earn significantly less than that as he attempts to re-build his value ahead of what he likely hopes will be a big contract in the coming years. A soon-to-be-28-year old starting pitcher with nearly 200 big league games under his belt coming to Colorado for some amount below $9 million is the exact definition of buy-low, though Latos' attractively cheap contract parameters will attract more clubs than just the Rockies.

Latos is represented by the Bledsoe Brothers Sports Agency, whose other clients include Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Robbie Ross, Tony Sipp, Justin Smoak, and Nick Tropeano.

The case against Mat Latos

Well, I suppose any case for or against Latos revolves around whether you're optimistic that his 2015 dumpster fire was a one-off (and thus, you'd like to take a chance in 2016), or if you're pessimistic that a poor 2015 proves the league has caught up to him (and thus, you're against bringing him on as a free agent).

I can't disagree with you that Latos' 2015 was bad, and his time specifically with the Dodgers — who made him the focal point trade acquisition of their deadline deals in the middle of a playoff run — was a complete failure from his first appearance at Chavez Ravine. (Latos was 0-3 with a 6.66 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched with the Dodgers; he allowed 31 hits and six walks, complained about the coaching staff, and allowed a massive 16th-inning home run to Nolan Arenado before being designated for assignment.)

If that Latos is 2016's Latos, then his hypothetical acquisition would be Kyle Kendrick, Part II. While I'd contest 2015 Latos is not going to be the Latos of the near future, and he certainly won't be like Kendrick — Latos has never been hit as hard, and has the stuff to miss far more bats than Kendrick did — I'll still allow for the possibility that the free agent may just not be as consistent as he was a few years ago. And the mechanics and velocity concerns touched on above would be an issue wherever he signs for 2016.

Whether it goes back to his knee and shoulder troubles in 2014 in Cincinnati, his poor start in 2015 in Miami, his abysmal experience in Los Angeles down the stretch, some combination of those three, or something else entirely, Latos was a completely different pitcher in 2015 than he's ever been, and next summer must be a "show-me" year for his career.

Mat Latos' fit with the Rockies

Latos fits the mold Kendrick fit in 2015; a veteran who could theoretically "eat innings," as the conventional wisdom went, while hopefully being consistent enough to make quality starts and let the Rockies kick the ball down the road for another likely irrelevant season as they develop pitching prospects. Latos is going to come relatively cheap, too — although by virtue of the fact of that thriftiness, he's also likely to attract several suitors besides the Rockies, if Colorado were ever even going to get in on any hypothetical negotiations.

As much as I like Latos as a buy-low surprise comeback story in 2016, I think it comes down to his (probable) personal motives. Next summer is a big year for Latos if he wants a future free agent deal that would be appropriate for his big league history aside from 2015; a one-year deal in 2016 (which would be fine for the Rockies!) is great, but from Latos' perspective, that one-year deal would have to be somewhere that he can re-build value, so when he hits the open market after 2016, somebody will give him a nice contract. (With a relatively tepid free agent class in 2017, too, Latos would make a splash next winter if he has a strong summer ahead.)

Because of that, I'm hard-pressed to believe Latos would sign in Colorado for a one-year value re-build, unless the Rockies really overpaid him. This isn't a Kyle Kendrick-type situation coming off a pair of rough seasons in Philadelphia and taking on what was presumably the best contract offered to him as a 30-year old. Latos is a pitcher more than two years younger than Kendrick, coming off just one bad season, likely eager to prove himself next summer before landing on the free agent market and getting a four- or five-year deal from a team willing to pay.

Latos may fit the Rockies' plan next season as a buy-low free agent rotation buffer on which to take a flyer. The Rockies will need one of those, in all likelihood. But pitchers eager to re-build value don't exactly circle Denver on their list of places to pitch themselves into larger free agent contracts in the future, and for that reason, Latos would probably be wise to avoid Colorado.