When Jon Heyman first tweeted that the Cincinnati Reds acquired starting pitcher Mat Latos for Yonder Alonso and “others”, the deal looked like a huge win for the Reds. After all, Latos is one of the best young starters in baseball and has real ace potential. However, the deal then became very difficult to break down when it was announced that the Reds traded pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger, as well as catching prospect Yasmani Grandal. This sudden trade has shaken the baseball world and was a huge move in an offseason filled with major splashes.
The biggest trade of the offseason- thus far- involves three high-level prospects, an ace of the future, and a once-promising pitcher who is beginning to slide into obscurity. Edinson Volquez was once a budding star in 2008 (4.2 WAR), but he has never been worth 1 WAR since and hit rock-bottom last year (-0.3 WAR). First baseman Yonder Alonso is a good but overrated prospect who needed to be traded. Many people believed that the Reds would deal superstar first baseman Joey Votto to clear the way for Alonso, but, thankfully, GM Walt Jocketty wasn’t foolish enough to make such a move. After all, the goal is to retain superstars; not trade them away.
Nevertheless, something had to be done with Alonso. The Reds really wanted to obtain a high-octane starter with potential, and they weren’t enamored with some of the players in their rotation (such as Volquez). Bronson Arroyo and the others weren’t likely to fetch much, and no sane person would ever accept Arroyo’s awful contract. So, Volquez was the one who had to go.
I’m not a scout, and I’m not going to pretend like I’m Rain Man with prospects. However, I do know that Alonso, Grandal, and Boxberger are three prospects who have a ton of potential and may one day be impact players at the Major League level. However, it comes time to analyze the two Major League pitchers involved in this trade who I can safely quantify based on their Major League production.
After an incredible 2010 season that yielded a 2.92 ERA, many fans believed that Mat Latos’s 3.47 ERA in 2011 was a sign of regression and that Latos was never really that good of a pitcher. However, his FIP was only 0.16 higher in ’11, and he was still worth a very solid 3.2 WAR (4 WAR in 2010). Detractors say that he benefited quite a bit from PETCO, while that is true, Latos’s park-adjusted numbers are still very good (he also has a career 8.65 K/9). Latos’s batted ball stats and peripherals show that he is capable of pitching outside of a pitcher-friendly park (unlike Wade LeBlanc). He displays good control, doesn’t give up many liners, and he induces his fair share of groundballs.
Armed with a good fastball and a nasty slider, Mat Latos is undoubtedly a tough guy to hit. He may one day have the ability to strike out nine batters per nine, as he is already extremely close to that number already. Not many 24-year-olds are able to pitch this well, and I agree with the 12 fans on FanGraphs who submitted their projections; Latos will be a 5 WAR ace in the near future. I disagree with the notion that such production will come in 2012, and I expect a more realistic total of 4 WAR. However, Latos obviously has the potential to notch that many wins above replacement with his overall ability and insane upside.
Plate discipline statistics are very important when analyzing pitchers, and one number jumps out at me when looking at these stats for Mat Latos; 10.6. His swinging strike percentage was at 10.6% in 2011, and that was well above the league average for that season (2%, in fact). He is able to get first pitch strikes, force hitters to chase pitches, and almost nobody makes contact on him when they chase (57.8 O-Contact%). The fact that Mat Latos is able to force so many misses is quite promising, even though he did take a step back in 2011. However, he still had a good year and will improve after a “down” year.
Edinson Volquez is a very perplexing player to predict, simply because he has only had one season in which he was worth 1 WAR or more; 2008. Even though it was his only notable season, it was a dandy as he was worth 4.2 WAR. While Volquez did struggle with his control- a common theme today- he was able to strike out more than nine batters per nine, forced a good amount of grounders, and he did not give up many home runs.
Fast forward to the next three seasons, and we see a completely different pitcher. He is giving up home runs in bunches, and he is always walking more than five hitters per nine. That’s really the reason why he hasn’t been pitching well, because you can’t feasibly do much if you’re struggling with your control so badly that you either walk everybody or get crushed.
Volquez still has the ability to strike out hitters, but the amount of free passes he gives up is what is hindering his progression. If he doesn’t dramatically improve his control, he will never succeed in the Majors again. He will most certainly benefit from PETCO and could have a small turn-around and become a league-average pitcher, but I highly doubt he is ever worth 4 WAR again.
The San Diego Padres did acquire three top prospects, but they also added a starting pitcher full of question marks. The Cincinnati Reds, on the other hand, added a starting pitcher whom they covet and really strove to obtain. Latos’s immense potential makes it impossible to say that the Reds got the short end of the stick, because they traded three unproven players and a shaky starter for a 24-year-old, team-controlled, future-ace. I think both teams “won” this trade, because that’s really how it is in most deals in the MLB. The Padres did receive more value in this trade, but the Reds really needed a starter and only had use for Grandal and Boxberger out of the four players who they traded. The Reds are now much better equipped to make a run in their division in 2012, while the Padres are now well-stocked for the future; despite losing Mat Latos.