Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Latos vs LeBlanc in the rotation?

Something I've been thinking about for the better part of a week is what to do with Wade LeBlanc.  The reasons why I've been wondering, well, I'll explain at the bottom of the post.  The Padres are in an enviable position, because they will have too many starting pitchers when Chris Young comes off the DL.  Note that I'm not considering Tim Stauffer, who was a candidate to start during spring training, in this discussion, as he is doing a nice job out of the Padre bullpen.  San Diego has been able to let Chris Young rehab at his own pace is because of their depth in the rotation.

LeBlanc has pitched very well since taking CY's spot in the rotation.  Latos, outside of the scintillating start against San Francisco, has struggled. With Young almost ready to resume his place, the Padres have a tough call to make:  who gets sent back to Portland?

Here's my thought:  it's not as simple as giving Wade LeBlanc a ticket to Oregon.  Based on performance so far this year, Latos might be a better choice.

Let's take the emotion out of it and look at this objectively.

1.  Latos (4 starts): 20 1/3 IP, 14 R (all earned), 24 H, 6 BB, 13K, 5 HR.  WHIP = 1.527, ERA = 6.20.  Granted, half the runs he allowed happened last night.
2.  LeBlanc (2 starts):  11 IP, 1 R (earned), 10 H, 4 BB, 10 K, 0 HR.  WHIP = 1.273, ERA = 0.82.

LeBlanc, despite making two fewer starts and throwing 9 1/3 fewer innings, has only three fewer strikeouts, is allowing fewer baserunners, and has a miniscule ERA.

Since Earned Run Average is an inherently flawed metric, a deeper look is in order.  Here are a little more advanced statistics, ones currently commonly accepted as being good measures of the quality of a pitcher (i.e., they take the defense out of the equation).  The first two take into account Latos' start last night, the last two don't.

K/BB ratio:  Latos 2.16, LeBlanc 2.5.
K/9:  Latos 5.76, LeBlanc 8.18.
FIP:  Latos 5.46, LeBlanc 2.30.
xFIP:  Latos 3.99, LeBlanc 3.42.

You can keep looking at your convenience.  By all the statistical measures I reviewed, however, at this moment in history Wade LeBlanc is pitching better than Mat Latos.  I'm not saying we should give up on Latos, or that 4 years down the road he won't be the best starter on the team - we shouldn't, and he might.  But today - for this team - LeBlanc is currently the better option.

And let's not forget how close the #5 starter competition was in spring training.  Latos beat-out LeBlanc the last week of March, so it's not like Latos' making the team was a slam-dunk.  These guys graded out virtually even, with Latos being just slightly better.

So who do the Padres send down?  They ought to, in my opinion, seriously consider Latos.  Now, LeBlanc's next start is at home against Milwaukee (Thursday night).  If he lays an egg, then perhaps you keep working with Latos and send LeBlanc back down.  But if LeBlanc shuts down the Marlins Brewers, a team that just got finished torturing Latos a very good hitting team, well, that's another point for Wade staying in San Diego.

I really need to hire a proofreader.

(why I started pondering this:  I have Wade LeBlanc on my NL-only Rotisserie League fantasy team, and I was trying to decide if I should keep him or trade him.)


  1. Excellent point Mike. I think I am guilty (like many other Padres fans) at letting Latos' great stuff overshadow LeBlanc's great start. Agree 100% if LeBlanc shuts down the Marlins, then send him down when Young returns.

  2. It's a tough problem. Latos has more potential to be great, in my opinion, because of his stuff, but right now he's struggling. I think LeBlanc gives the Padres a better shot at winning.

    Also, you don't want Mat to get discouraged after absorbing beatings at the ML level, but you don't want him to get discouraged by sending him down either. This is why Hoyer and Black get paid the big bucks.

    Of course, if LeBlanc gets shelled tonight I may have to delete this post. :)

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Mike
    LeBlanc has 15 start and 78 innings across parts of 3 seasons.
    Latos has 14 starts and 71 innings across parts of 2 seasons.

    I'm not ready to talk about LeBlanc like he's primed to be in somebody's rotation. He's looked great so far this year but was horribly mediocre in his previous cups of coffee.

    As you point out--that's what Bud and Jed get paid the big bucks for. I'm inclined to think that Latos is the sort of personality that would take a demotion a lot worse than he would the occasional beating at the ML level. Of course what do I know? I'm not a GM, I just play one in the blogosphere (although, from last night, you know my preference is to see both of these guys in the rotation and see CY spend more time on the sideline).

  4. Mike,

    I readily admit my post is entirely based on small sample size data. I probably should have said that in the post itself.

    You're right on the money about LeBlanc being spectacularly average in his previous stints. Is he just getting lucky in 2010, or has he figured it out at age 25? I've got a hunch he's figured it out, but that's all it is - a hunch. He's one shellacking away from being the Wade LeBlanc we thought he was.

    You're also probably right about Latos not taking a demotion well. I recall spring training stories about him working to control his emotions when he pitches. He seems to wear his feelings on his sleeve, which means he'll take getting shipped out pretty hard. Hopefully he'll use that fact, if it happens, to motivate himself and not go into the crapper.

    Oh, and Garland pitches tonight. I really need to learn how to read a schedule.

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. I think you raised a very good point about Latos/LeBlanc. Latos has the upside, but he's been a professional for only three years, and just turned 23 last December. LeBlanc has been at AAA the last 3 years and turns 26 in August.

    I'd object to the mediocre tag on LeBlanc, though. He was awful in a 2 start June callup last year, but Black impressed on him the need to establish the fastball, and when he came back up in late August for seven starts, he was 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and averaged 6 innings.

    Black noted he was throwing his fastball for strikes and using both sides of the plate. A scout in Spring training noticed that too and added Wade's also throwing a cutter. Some players need time to catch on to what they have to do. Last September may have been Wade's epiphany. Also, never forget that Wade is a lefty.

    I think the Padres brain trust is thinking over this very issue. Their concern over how Latos may take a demotion has to be balanced against letting him know he has to produce at the major league level, not just show promise. I suspect Young will get at least two rehab starts whether he needs them or not, before a decision is made.

    Larry Faria
    Ocean Beach

  6. After last night, against a potent Brewer line-up, how could the Padres even think about sending LeBlanc down?

    I was probably overstated in saying that Leblanc was mediocre ALL last year. He did show improvements and they have carried over to this season.

    I like that CY has been bumped a little further back which gives a chance for both Mat and Wade to continue to compete. I hope Latos acknowledges it as competition and rises to the challenge.