San Diego, CA, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos (55) throws during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
Mat Latos is a very interesting starting pitcher, and he has a very interesting delivery that leads to very interesting results. How interesting!
A year ago, some guy named Josh Collmenter burst onto the scene with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He came out of nowhere to walk pretty much no one and succeed over 24 starts, and Collmenter wasn't just unusual for his career path; he was unusual for his delivery. His extremely over-the-top delivery, which you can see below:
You don't need to know much about pitching to know there aren't a lot of pitchers who pitch like that. Turns out Collmenter learned his delivery from throwing axes when he was younger. You've probably heard that story -- it was covered dozens and dozens of times.
Collmenter, though, isn't the only pitcher with an over-the-top delivery. Here's another one, and by the way his name is Mat Latos. I should've probably mentioned that before.
Collmenter basically throws above his head, and Latos does the same. Of the two, it's Latos' delivery that seems more fluid and natural, even though overhand pitching is about as unnatural as it gets. But the point here isn't to compare Mat Latos to Josh Collmenter, because there's not really any reason to do that.
I can't confirm this, but based on about 20 minutes of research, it seems like Mat Latos might have the highest release point in the major leagues. If he's not No. 1, he's very close. Helping Latos get there is the fact that he officially measures 6-foot-6, which is tall, even for athletes selected in part for their height. The other part is Latos' mechanics, as he clearly has an elevated arm slot.
Just how different is Latos from what's usual? Here's an image of teammate Johnny Cueto, who's a right-handed starter:
Every pitcher aside from Roy Halladay and Charlie Morton has a unique way of throwing a baseball. Even guys who appear to have identical deliveries will have subtle little differences. The way a pitcher pitches comes with various costs and benefits, and something interesting about Latos is considering how he might be different if he pitched from a more conventional arm angle. As is, his performance record is telling.
You don't need me to tell you about platoon splits. Lefty pitchers are supposed to be better against lefty batters, and righty pitchers are supposed to be better against righty batters. Are you familiar with FIP? Good, let's use that. According to FanGraphs, righty Roy Halladay has a career 2.90 FIP against righties, and 3.32 against lefties. Lefty CC Sabathia has a career 2.80 FIP against lefties, and 3.63 against righties. Righty Mat Latos has a career 3.47 FIP against righties, and 3.45 against lefties. The splits are virtually identical, and based on more than a thousand plate appearances each.
As a general rule of thumb, the lower the arm slot, the wider the platoon splits. There's a reason why side-armers usually end up as bullpen specialists. Mat Latos has a very high arm slot, and as a result he basically doesn't have a platoon split at all. You might say that makes him worse against righties than he could be, but it makes him better against lefties than he could be, and he faces more lefties than righties by more than eight percent.
So by throwing from such a high slot, Latos is effective against hitters of both handednesses. But there's another aspect here as well. You've heard about the value of pitchers throwing on a downward plane. We turn to Matt Lentzner at Baseball Prospectus for some delicious knowledge:
You might be wondering how this works in the vertical plane; it’s basically the same. Each degree of offset is equivalent to about 3.5 mph of pitch speed. A typical fastball descends at seven degrees. If you have a really tall pitcher who can release the ball a foot higher than average, then that same pitch will be dropping at eight degrees when it reaches the plate, for an effective speed of 3.5 mph more for the purposes of making contact—just another reason why tall pitchers are so popular.
Latos releases the baseball higher on average than just about anyone. He has a slim height advantage over some, and a considerable height advantage over many. If you can believe it, he releases the ball even higher than Chris Young. This doesn't have any effect on Latos' actual pitch speed, but it does have an effect on Latos' perceived pitch speed, which is more important. Latos looks to the hitter to be throwing harder than he really is, which accordingly makes him more difficult to hit.
So hopefully now you have a slightly better understanding of what allows Mat Latos to be Mat Latos. It's not that he's completely a product of his delivery, since he is also just incredibly talented, but his delivery is a big part of his results. And interestingly enough, Latos has recently come on in 2012. Through his first dozen starts, he posted a 4.85 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio around 2.4. Over his last five starts, he's posted a 2.75 ERA with eight strikeouts per walk. His strike rate has gone way up, and his contact rate has gone way down. If we look at Latos' release point splits:
First dozen starts
Last five starts
If you open those images in separate tabs and alternate back and forth, you can see something of a shift, where Latos' recent stretch has corresponded with a slightly higher arm slot. It might be something and it might be nothing, I don't know, but that's something we can monitor going forward. Latos releases the ball way up there. Lately it's allowed him to dominate.
Unlike Josh Collmenter, Latos to my knowledge doesn't have an interesting story behind why he throws like he throws. Even if he did, I probably wouldn't want to listen to Latos tell it, because Latos is also kind of an immature prick. But what Latos lacks in interesting anecdotes, he more than makes up for in interesting results. Mat Latos is different in more ways than most.