I had an actual live caller and an actual participant in the chat room guest during last night's Podcast, which was all kinds of awesome. Nothing like having more than one person to talk to to make a discussion flow better. While we touched on a variety of topics (feel free to follow the above link to hear it all), the one I want to follow up on this morning is Mat Latos and his 'rest'.
To recap: Padres GM Jed Hoyer is on record saying the team wants to cap Latos' innings pitched at 150 for 2010.
Interestingly, there is precedent for giving a young pitcher a break in the middle of the season. Detroit promoted 20 year old phenom Rick Porcello to the majors last year. They had the same concerns the Padres currently do about overworking this prized prospect too early in his career, so they did two things. One, they limited his pitch count to less than 100 (which they stuck to until his 24th start on 28 August), and two, in an attempt to limit his innings they shut him down following his 5 July start for 15 days. Because this break coincided with the All-Star break, Porcello ended up only missing one start.
Porcello's numbers pre and post break are interesting:
He was basically the same pitcher in both halves, although his ERA, BABIP allowed, and OPS went down after the rest period. What I want you to notice, however, is he threw the same amount of innings in each half - which total to 170.2. Now that includes the one-game playoff against Minnesota he started last 6 Oct; but even if we subtract that start out he still threw 165 innings in 2009.
Did it help Porcello in 2010? The jury is still out, but early returns say no. Through 19 June, Porcello had a 4-7 record, a WHIP of 1.692, and an ERA+ of 71 (worse than Dontrelle Willis, which is saying something). As a result, Detroit sent him down to Toledo on 20 June. It's unclear if his struggles are due to his 2009 workload or part of the natural regression once hitters have time to review tape and learn tendencies.
Back to Latos. After last night's sublime performance (7 more shutout innings, running his scoreless inning streak to 15, AND his first career HR) Latos has thrown 106.2 total innings during the regular season. That leaves him 43 innings to pitch in 2010. Since May 1, he's worked into the sixth inning in every start but one (4 June at Philly) - 11 out of 12 starts. Assuming he will work 6 innings in all of his starts, he has 7 starts left this season.
The Padres will roll through the rotation 15 more times in 2010, meaning they are squarely staring at shelving their best pitcher for almost 2 months in the heat of a pennant drive.
It's pretty obvious Tim Stauffer would be the replacement for Latos in the rotation once San Diego decides to sit Latos. Stauffer has pitched well this season and just lost out on the #5 starter job out of spring training, but he has not pitched in the majors since May 9th, and he's only made 1 start this season (he's made 31 other starts over the course of his 5-year career). Choosing Tim Stauffer over Mat Latos to start games in late July and all of August is not ideal for a team in the thick of the pennant hunt.
Although every pitcher is different, the fact Rick Porcello took about 3 weeks off and came back the same pitcher is encouraging - it's a data point that Latos could take some time off and continue to dominate when he returns. Missing 8 starts is a lot more than missing 2 or 3, however.
I don't have an answer here, I just point this out. The easiest course of action is to let Latos continue taking the ball every 5th day. The Padres, with Latos' long-term health firmly in the forefront of their thinking, are looking for the right decision.
I'll close by saying this: it's not every day a team finds itself with a chance to qualify for the post-season and possibly make a deep run. The 2010 San Diego Padres, amazingly enough, have a chance to do so. Isn't that the point of playing this game?