Mat Latos has been a fantastic addition to fantasy staffs this year, but owners of him may need to formulate some kind of plan in the coming weeks to make up for his production. No, Latos isn't hurt, but he is 22-years old, and playoff race or not, is seen to be the most important pitcher in the San Diego Padres rotation for years to come. That's why general manager Jed Hoyer, in an interview with XX Sports Radio (via the ever-entertaining Gaslamp Ball) made a point of saying Latos would get an extended rest in 2010 in order to have him ready for September (and, as Padres fans are hoping, October baseball as well, though it's a bit early to start printing tickets for that).
Latos was one of our three-star pitchers heading into this year—the thinking was that he would be the ace of the Padres staff and come into his own in 2010, but he was a more important pitcher for 2011 and beyond, as far as being recognized as an ace across the league goes. While Latos struggled early thanks to giving up some home runs (he had a 6.20 ERA in April, with five homers allowed in 20 1/3 innings pitched) he has since pitched much better and, as anyone who has watched him pitch before and after can see, pitches with much more confidence in his secondary offerings now, one of the main reasons for his success. He throws offspeed and breaking pitches in fastball counts and keeps hitters off balance, and he's very efficient as well. Latos is averaging around 6 1/3 innings per start (despite 4 2/3 and 2 2/3 starts in April) and just over 98 pitches per game started.
Latos ERA, 6.20 at the end of April, now sits at 2.62. He's striking out 8.2 hitters per nine while walking just 2.4 per nine thanks to pinpoint control and improved command. His homer rate, which was 1.2 last season and inflated in the early goings, is now just 0.8. His SIERA is 3.34, so he hasn't been that lucky—part of the success is from Petco, and part of it is the defense behind him, but a significant portion of his success has been the fact he's a great pitcher.
Latos has thrown 99 2/3 innings—in his age 21 season, the Padres limited him to 123 innings pitched across three levels (Single- and Double-A as well as 50+ innings in the majors). The Padres take him out of games early when they can (their league-leading bullpen allows them this luxury) and keep his pitch count down, which is good for his development at this early stage, but as the ace of a staff on a first place team, he may need to pitch deeper into the season.
Tim Stauffer, recently returned to the staff after a self-diagnosed bout of appendicitis, was stretched out as a starter and is expected to take Latos' turn in the rotation at some point. Hoyer was quoted as hating to take Latos out because "he's pitching so well and in such a rhythm" but San Diego is not about to mortgage their future or Latos' for a few extra starts between now and September. Don't expect Latos to disappear forever—holding him back a few turns in order to keep his arm fresh and keep him from starting a full season's worth of games is the key. Just like San Diego, you'll need to find a suitable replacement for fantasy purposes in the short term.
Stauffer, who is taking Latos' spot eventually in real baseball, is a better reliever than a starter but has the repertoire to fill in for your fantasy team as well. He posted an ERA of 3.58 last season, and though his SIERA was 4.63, the nature of Petco and the Padres defense should help him keep an ERA below what his peripherals say anyways. It's a temporary solution for sure, and you would rather have Latos around, but the Padres are keeping an eye on 2011 and beyond while 2010 is still going on.