Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 2/20/13
At this time last year I was telling everyone who would listen to stay away from Mat Latos. In two full season with the Padres, Latos had posted fantastic FIPs of 3.00 and 3.16, but FIP doesn’t account for the ballpark in which he pitched half of his games so his better-than-average 8.0% and 7.3% HR/FB rates weren’t adjusted to the higher league average marks.For that kind of converstion we need xFIP, which normalizes Latos’ HR/FB rates to the league average (this helps us look at how he really pitched if done in a league average park, which is useful when comparing pitchers changing teams). In 2010 and 2011 with the Padres, Latos posted xFIPs of 3.21 and 3.52, respectively. Still very good, but not quite as great.Now, that wouldn’t matter if Latos was spending the next several seasons in sunny San Diego, but last year he suited up for Cincinnati in a far more homer-friendly park. It would be nearly impossible for him to replicate those low HR/FB rates. Indeed that was the case; Latos posted an 11.3% HR/FB rate last year.But homers might prove to be a moot point moving forward as Latos has been able to keep the ball down better in recent seasons and has seen his ground ball rate rise. Last year’s 1.26 GB:FB ratio was a career best, and his 1.49 ratio after the All-Star Break shows how well he progressed in a new environment as the year wore on.There are a lot of factors that go into Cy Young voting every season, but in a star-studded starting pitching pool in the Senior Circuit, Latos is one of the best sleeper candidates out there.At a GlanceStrengths: W, L, QS, WHIP, KNeutral: ERA, K/9Weaknesses: nonePlayer ComparisonsBest-case scenario: Matt Cain (SF)Likely scenario: Madison Bumgarner (SF), Johnny Cueto (CIN), Jered Weaver (LAA)Worst-case scenario: Doug Fister (DET)Mat Latos 2013 Fantasy ProjectionI was worried homers would plague Latos in Cincinnati, which has a park factor for home runs of 143. Despite the park he pitched in, Latos managed a very repeatable 11.3% HR/FB rate. While that still resulted in just a 3.85 FIP last year, it should be noted that Latos was able to pitch to a 3.48 ERA because of his ability to replicate his perennially low BABIPs. Normally I’d suggest that a .266 BABIP should rise and Latos should regress, and to a degree this is what we projected, but he’s never allowed opponents to hit line drives at a rate even remotely resembling league average — last year opponents had a line drive rate of 18.4%, and his career average is just 16.7%. Latos prevents solid contact and limits walks, and that’s a good recipe for success.It would be nice if he could get his strikeout rate back up, but we’ll need to wait another year to see if that happens. Last year Latos introduced a cutter about 20% of the time, a major change in his pitching approach.In the end he’ll likely have a sub-1.20 WHIP and an ERA in the 3.20-3.60 range with 180+ strikeouts, and he should win a lot of games for a strong Cincinnati squad. I feel Latos is an extremely safe bet for that kind of line with modest breakout potential as well (sleeper Cy Young!) and I’ve found myself drafting Latos as a low-tier ace in deeper fantasy formats. With an ADP of 70.0 in early Yahoo! mocks, Latos would be one of my primary starting pitchers targets.
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