South Side Morning 5: Latos’ struggles becoming hard to ignore

1. The White Sox really should have paced their use of Mat Latos magic over the full year. After a nearly perfect first four starts, where Latos dodged all hard contact and enjoyed the cushion a .167 BABIP provides, now he looks like someone overwhelmed as to how to get major league hitters out.

Latos can’t pound the zone for strikes–the worst whiff rate on a four-seam fastball in baseball got no better Wednesday night–and trying to nibble more has seen him issue 10 walks in 20.2 innings over his last four starts. His most effective breaking pitch Wednesday night was a splitter, which is something he has to feel free to tumble into the dirt; it’s not a strike grabber. To top it off, the delivery was the worst it has looked all season, full of ugly unbalanced finishes that don’t suggest the level of fineness he needs to work with reduced stuff is around the corner.

As ugly as it has been (18 earned runs to nine strikeouts over 20.2 is very ugly) the White Sox still have to worry about Miguel Gonzalez, and no promising Triple-A depth. Even if a brand new No. 3 starter appears in the Sox clubhouse tomorrow, they probably need to keep giving starts to Latos and figure out if there’s anything left in his talent reservoir that can be tapped into to enable a new, effective approach. In other words, they’re stuck.

2. On May 1, Brett Lawrie went nuts in Baltimore, collecting three hits that included a double and his fourth home run of the year, and ending the night with a .290/.377/.505 batting line. Since then he’s struck out in 26 of his 61 plate appearances (42.6 percent) and his line has descended to .252/.341/.435 in 17 days time.

Lawrie needing a day off is overly simple, but definitely true. It’s unlikely a single day can address the increasing hitch in Lawrie’s swing, causing a huge vulnerability to in-zone velocity, resulting in far and away the highest strikeout rate of his career (32.9 percent), but it may shore up the defense that’s been heavy on energy recently, but short on thoughtfulness and precision.

The lack of contact always made Lawrie a bad fit for moving up to the No. 2 slot, but now that his strikeouts are cresting and his once sky-high BABIP is failing, it would nice if he could just equal or better his last year in Oakland: a low-OBP, slightly-below average hitter with enough pop to be suitable at a middle infield position, but his wave of destruction to open the year really made some other slow starts palatable.

Speaking of which:

3. At the beginning of the week, I made note that the big switch in how pitchers attacked Jose Abreu since his indomitable rookie season was an increased effort to jam him inside. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs took it a step further and used StatCast data to show that jamming Abreu has actually been a proven way to blunt his power production, and that its popularity as a method is likely behind his slow start to the year.

Ok, sure, but when does he adjust? Every hitter has weak points, and most have their careers undone by them, but someone of the caliber to torch the league as viciously as Abreu did his first two seasons should need more than the idea ‘jam him’ to handcuff his production for this long. It’s a simple and clear explanation but far too simple and clear to justify a blase month and a half from an elite bat, and the White Sox do not have enough things going right for them to cover up his malaise anymore.

4. Depending on your perspective, Dioner Navarro either pulled up lame or just decided to throttle things down to ‘Konerko’ speeds while running to third on an Adam Eaton double with two outs in the fifth Wednesday night. A runner like Navarro was not going to score on this ball anyway, but normally major league players round the base hard to force a throw or a mistake, and look less like they’re landing a helicopter on top of a building.

Navarro was checked out by trainers and left in the game surprisingly, but was pinch-run for two innings later. Navarro has been quietly solid with the bat in May (.308/.317/.436), and that’s mostly the whole point of this platoon, so he’s likely to continue to absorb playing time and adding to his league lead in runs lost to poor framing.

5. The White Sox turned their second triple play of the season Wednesday, a ho-hum little 5-4-3 trip around the horn, but now they have two triple plays in a season for the first time in a decade, and they have it in mid-May. They are now on pace for…two triple plays this season, because these are completely rare, fluke events and getting shut out for the rest of the year would be normal distribution.

The 5-4-3 turn reminded me of a triple play the Sox executed back when Robin Ventura was suiting up himself, when he, Ray Durham and Frank Thomas pulled one in a game at Fenway Park in 1996. They also lost that game, because generally when your pitcher is putting the first two runners on in an inning without an out, he’s having a bad night. In that particular loss, the Sox were felled by Red Sox shortstop John Valentin hitting for a darn cycle on them.

In case you need cheering up about Mat Latos, the Sox were trying out Joe Magrane in the rotation back then. Magrane, already a year removed from his last major league action when the Sox acquired him, would go on to make three more starts–all losses–and then never pitch in the majors again. Valentin, himself, well he had turned the most casual unassisted triple play ever two seasons earlier


Lead Image Credit: Mike Dinovo // USA Today Sports Images

Related Articles

1 comment on “South Side Morning 5: Latos’ struggles becoming hard to ignore”

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username