We learned last week that the Brewers are on the hunt for additional pitching depth and that they missed out on signing Jhoulys Chacin. According to a report yesterday from ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, it appears the club has a new name on their radar.
Mat Latos' name should be a familiar one to Brewers' fans. He began his career back in 2006 as an 11th round pick by the San Diego Padres. Mat made his big league debut with the Padres in 2009 and quickly established himself as one of the better pitchers in the game. Latos posted 8.4 fWAR through his first two-plus seasons before getting traded to Cincinnati following the 2011 season.
Latos continued his excellent production in 2012 and 2013 for the Reds but began battling injuries late in the 2013 season. He had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in the 2013-14 offseason and then tore cartilage in his knee during the following spring training. He began the season on the DL and didn't make his first big league starts until late May. He also suffered a bone bruise in his pitching elbow in September and would get shut down for the remainder of the season. He'd only make 16 starts and pitch 102.1 innings total.
The Reds shipped Latos to Miami prior to the 2015 season. Hoping to re-establish his value before heading into free agency, Latos instead suffered through the worst season of his career. Knee issues again cost him a month during the regular season, and his results were generally ineffective with Miami. He ended up as a part of the monster three team trade between Miami, the Dodgers, and the Braves, winding up in Los Angeles. There he allowed 18 earned runs in 24.1 innings before getting designated for assignment. He caught on with the cross-town Angels and made two appearances out of their bullpen before the end of the season. His final numbers were ugly - a 4-10 record with a career worst 4.95 ERA in 116.1 innings pitched.
Even considering his injury woes and recent bottom-line results, there is plenty to like about Latos as a potential bounce-back candidate. He does come with an excellent track record overall, having produced a 3.51 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 1068.1 innings over his six-plus year career, good enough for 19.6 total fWAR. His fastball velocity fell to a career-low 90.7 MPH in 2014 after his elbow surgery, but he ratcheted that back up to 91.5 MPH last year. His strikeout rate also jumped two points back up to 20.2% and his walk rate was a strong 6.5%, both numbers that are very much in line with his career norms.
Despite his ugly ERA in 2015, a 3.72 FIP probably describes Latos' contributions a little more accurately. He was hurt by a .307 BABIP, 26 points higher than his career average of .281, despite not really seeing a dramatic change in his batted ball profile. His strand rate was also quite low at 63.8%, nearly nine points below his career mark. Latos posted the second worst HR/FB ratio of his career at 11.6%, as well. It wouldn't be an outrageous thought to attribute some of Latos' struggled last season to bad luck.
Milwaukee has three openings on their 40 man roster and as it currently stands, there is one more opening in the starting rotation. The Brewers do have plenty of internal candidates to fill that vacancy (Zach Davies, Ariel Pena, Junior Guerra, etc), but it would make plenty of sense if the club wanted to bring in a veteran buy-low candidate on a one-year deal to fill out the rotation. The added depth could also give the Brewers more flexibility to deal someone like Wily Peralta, who would figure to draw plenty of suitors if Slingin' Stearns was willing and interested in pursuing that avenue.
It's not difficult to imagine Latos regaining his form and becoming a mid-3's ERA contributor again, and that would make him a valuable commodity at the trade deadline. He still young enough at just 28 that regression should not be imminent, especially given his solid underlying peripherals last season. On a one-year deal there is essentially no risk involved other than money and the reward could be great in a potential prospect return, so this deal essentially seems like a no-brainer for a rebuilding ball club like Milwaukee.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs