The Chicago White Sox signed right-hander Mat Latos for half that the Oakland Athletics signed Rich Hill.
In early February, the Sox agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with Latos, who was returning from by far his worst season in the Major Leagues, pitching to a 4.95 ERA in 24 games (21 starts) for three teams.
Latos was a nice bounce back candidate but also came with some on- and off-the-field concerns.
In terms of off-the-field issues, Latos had some personality issues to work out, including speaking out against his own team's front office and training staffs.
On the field, Latos has had issues staying healthy throughout his career, too, with knee problems keeping him sidelined for about the first half of the 2014 season.
In short, it was easy to imagine why teams would balk at signing Latos. However, Latos still had some things in his favor, including the fact that he's was just 28 and was not far removed from a good season with the Reds in 2013, when he pitched to a 3.16 ERA in 32 starts (4.8 fWAR).
At the time of this signing, I wrote:
"The White Sox are taking the upside that Latos offers, as not too long ago he was a very good pitcher...Chicago is teetering on contention, and the addition of Latos, if it works out, could help lean them toward a successful 2016 season."
Well, the signing of Mat Latos could not have worked out any better for the White Sox thus far.
In three starts, Latos finds himself near the top of the ERA leaderboard, allowing just one earned run over 18 1/3 innings pitched, good for a 0.49 ERA. FIP (2.85) and xFIP (4.83) are less bullish on his start, as some regression is expected. Latos cannot possibly keep his ERA this low throughout the season.
Regardless, the question I have myself asking is why? Why has Mat Latos been so dominant thus far?
The answer: the slider.
The slider is Latos' best pitch. Unlike his other pitches, the slider generates more swings-and-misses than the average of that pitch. In the past, Latos has needed to use the slider more than just as a pitch to get strikeouts.
In fact, he's done just that this season, throwing the slider in counts where the batter is ahead 16.3 percent of the time. Last season, Latos did that just one percent of the time.
Overall, according to BrooksBaseball.net, the slider is the pitch that Latos is using 19.05 percent of the time. This is the most he has used the pitch since August 2013, when he threw it 22.79 percent of the time. That month, Latos had a 1.73 ERA and a 28 to 6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 1/3 innings pitched. This cannot possibly be a coincidence.
Three of Latos' 11 strikeouts (27.27 percent) this season have come via the slider. An outlandish 23.44 percent of his sliders have generated swings and misses.
This number is even more impressive in context. According to a FanGraphs article in 2014, a good slider has a 15.2 swinging strike percentage. Even then, Latos was mentioned having one of the best sliders in baseball.
Also, when it does not generate strikeouts, Latos' slider is hard to hit. He has a .067 batting average against when throwing the pitch; 62.5 percent of balls in play are ground balls. These are generally manageable outs. As a result, Latos' ERA remains low.
I'd like to have Mat Latos for $3 million right about now.
The most exciting thing about the current state of Major League Baseball is the youth movement that is occurring.
I've written about it a lot, but who wouldn't when the sport has the likes of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, Carlos Correa, and many other great, young players?
One guy who isn't mentioned as much as those other nine, despite being just as good, if not better, is Orioles' third baseman Manny Machado.
Machado is a dandy. He can run, he can hit, he has power and boy is he a good defender. But, I just don't think he gets the recognition, or is looked at as highly as he deserves.
Since 2013, Manny Machado has 16.7 fWAR, good for sixth-best in the Major Leagues. He has more Wins Above Replacement in that span than Harper, Jason Heyward, Joey Votto, Robinson Cano and many other superstars.
And it's not like Machado is a dimensional player either.
Just 102 days older than Harper, Machado is a two-time All-Star and hit .286/.359/.502 with 35 home runs, 30 doubles, 70 walks, 86 RBI and 20 stolen bases (28 attempts) in 713 plate appearances last season. He was worth a whopping 6.8 fWAR.
Oh and Machado was worth 14 defensive runs saved, and according to FanGraphs, had a 8.4 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).
So why isn't Machado mentioned--or at least isn't mentioned as often--in the same class as those above?
It might be because his team doesn't even recognize him as their best player. In fact, Machado, despite his phenomenal season, was snuffed the Most Valuable Oriole award in 2015, given in favor to Chris Davis, who had "just" 5.6 Wins Above Replacement.
Yes, I am telling you that Machado wasn't given the Orioles' MVP award by press members who watched him nearly every day, if not every day.
The same thing happened in 2013, too, when Davis beat out Machado. Though the circumstances were a bit different, as Davis was coming off of a 53 home run campaign, setting a club record.
However, the point is that Machado has to be appreciated locally before he can be appreciated nationally. That's because this youth movement in Major League Baseball would not be the same without Manny Machado.
Going....going...gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone.
In a nine game stretch during the postseason while with the Mets, new Nationals' second baseman Daniel Murphy hit seven home runs.
Murphy's never hit more than 14 home runs in the regular season, and in just nine games, he helped carry the Mets to the World Series as a home run hitter.
It was a small sample size, right? Murphy couldn't have possibly been an actual power hitter all of a sudden, right?
In fact, Murphy's game with the Nationals, who signed him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal this offseason, has done a complete 180 through this season's first 10 games.
Including stats through tonight's 8-1 win over the Phillies, Murphy is hitting .438 (14-for-28) with a .538 on-base percentage and a .844 slugging percentage over 39 plate appearances.
Even more intriguing for the Nationals is that he already has two home runs and has walked seven times. At this pace, if Murphy gets the same amount of plate appearances as he did last season (538), he'd be on pace for a 30 home run season.
Mind you, Murphy's dealing with a sky-high 25% home run to fly ball ratio, but even as that comes down, he appears to be well on his way to breaking his career high of 14 bombs in a season.
The walks, however, could be permanent and perhaps--dare I say it--career changing.
Murphy's career high in walks is 39. He already has seven in 10 games. He does have one intentional walk. But, again, if he gets 538 plate appearances, Murphy would be on pace for 97 walks, making him the seventh-highest walked player in the Majors in 2015.
And the walks are not going anywhere.
According to PITCHf/x data provided by FanGraphs.com, Murphy's plate discipline has been phenomenal thus far. For his career, Murphy has swung at 31.3% of pitches outside the strike zone. But with Washington so far? He's swung at just 20.3%.
This means more pitches seen, more walks, and quite possibly, more home runs too.
I'd like to point out that Murphy walked six times in 64 plate appearances during the 2015 postseason, and while that's not nearly as good as he's done in 2016, it definitely was better than his regular season. It allowed him to see more pitches and perhaps allowed him to hit more home runs.
Postseason Daniel Murphy has not gone anywhere. Except yard.
A hallmark of the 2015 Major League season was the immediate production of many top prospects.
Many coined the season the "Year of the Rookie" or "Year of the Prospect," and they're not wrong. An astounding 16 position player rookies last year posted a Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) above 2.0. In 2014, that number was seven. In 2013, it was eight.
While we probably won't see another season like 2015 for a long time, if ever, 2016 could be shaping up to have another fantastic rookie class.
I'm not just judging this based on the first week of the season. Well, I am, but I'm also taking into account what could happen over the rest of the season as well.
Both the American League and National League Players of the Week last week were rookies: Tyler White of the Astros and Trevor Story of the Rockies. It's amazing that, in just a week, both those players are almost at a whole win above replacement.
Not far behind are a trio of Cardinals--Jeremy Hazelbaker, Aledmys Diaz, and Greg Garcia--who have all opened the 2016 campaign with some hot hitting.
Oh, and not to mention, Nomar Mazara also just received a promotion to the Majors, and he had five hits in his first eight at bats, including a home run. Mazara, rated as baseball's 16th-best prospect (via MLB.com), is just getting started.
And we're only in the first week of the season too.
J.P. Crawford (Phillies), Orlando Arcia (Brewers), Joey Gallo (Rangers), and Trea Turner (Nationals) are four more top prospects that are expected to be up in the Majors at some point this year. Not to mention the fact that they're all in the top-10, according to MLB.com.
Baseball is in a supposed youth movement, with many young stars having come up to the Majors in the past few years. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are the obvious ones, but the game also has Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Correa, Paul Goldschmidt, and many other young players to be able to boast in the coming years.
And if 2015 was any indication, the rookies may begin to make a ripple too, creating a whole league of young talent.
Year of the Rookie, Part 2? Count on it.
Don't make any Trevor Story puns, Devan. Don't do it.
Too late. The Rockies' rookie shortstop has been a mammoth story this season, as he continues to break record after record. A few of the highlights from his six home run performance in his first four career games:
In four games this season, Story is hitting .368 (7-for-19) with six home runs and 11 RBIs in 19 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, he has already been worth 0.6 Wins Above Replacement, tied for second in the Major Leagues.
The best thing of all is that Story wasn't even supposed to be the Rockies' starting shortstop coming into this year. When Troy Tulowitzki was traded to the Blue Jays last summer, the Rockies received Jose Reyes and gave him that job.
He'd still be here now if he did not have some domestic violence allegations put up against him and was suspended indefinitely earlier this spring. This opened up the door for Story, the Rockies' 11th-best prospect (via MLB.com) to take the starting job.
I guess you could say the rest is hiSTORY.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, are from @theaceofspaeder on Twitter. Be sure to give him a follow for all the best baseball stats. Also, check out his book Incredible Baseball Stats here.