Compare two unnamed players and their 2015 stats for a moment:
Player A (31 years old): 4.96 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 214 IP, 6.86 K/9, 2.06 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9
Player B (28 years old): 4.95 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 116 1/3 IP, 7.74 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9
Player A has a career 4.09 ERA and 3.84 FIP; Player B has a 3.51 ERA and 3.44 FIP. Player A signed a five-year, $90 million deal this winter; Player B signed a one-year, $3 million deal.
Player A is Jeff Samardzija, who signed with the San Francisco Giants. Player B is Mat Latos, who signed with the White Sox on Tuesday.
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Latos, of course, has injury concerns, dealing with knee and elbow issues that limited him to just 37 starts in the last two seasons (Samardzija combined for 55 starts in 2014 and 2015). As those injuries have come and gone, Latos’ average fastball velocity has dropped from a tick under 93 miles per hour during his peak with San Diego and Cincinnati to about 91 miles per hour in 2014 and 2015.
The point in the Latos-Samardzija comparison is this: The price of starting pitching, especially this offseason, is exorbitant. Three million dollars is pocket change in the MLB free agent market. That’s the starting point when looking at how the White Sox deal with Latos could be, potentially, a massive bargain.
Latos hit his peak from 2010-2013, posting a 3.27 ERA (and 3.29 FIP) over 799 innings. He was one of eight pitchers to strike out at least 180 batters in each of those four seasons, joining Justin Verlander, James Shields, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels in that designation. He totaled 16 WAR (via FanGraphs) in that span, 14th among starting pitchers.
The White Sox, of course, would be elated to get that kind of production of out Latos — combining it with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon could mean Robin Ventura, Don Cooper & Co. have baseball’s best rotation at their disposal. But Latos probably will have to re-gain the velocity he’s lost on his fastball to reach that level of success — often times, once velocity is lost, it won’t come back, but given Latos’ age it’s not implausible that’ll return.
Latos, though, has had success with decreased velocity. Sporting a fastball that averaged a career-low 90.7 miles per hour in 2014, the right-hander posted a 3.25 ERA over 102 1/3 innings. While his 4.95 ERA in 2015 was ugly, he did go through stretches where he looked like his old self — from June 18 until he was dealt from the Miami Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he had a 3.26 ERA over six starts.
It has to be noted, though, that Latos’ hard contact rate rose in each of the last five seasons, peaking at 33 percent in 2015 (14th among starters with at least 110 innings pitched). And his tenure with the Dodgers was particularly rough — he posted a 6.66 ERA in 24 1/3 innings with them.
But only seven starting pitchers have, to date, signed major league one-year deals for $3 million or fewer: Latos, Bud Norris ($2.5 million, Atlanta), Ryan Vogelsong ($2 million, Pittsburgh), Brandon Beachy ($1.5 million, Los Angels Dodgers), Jacob Turner ($1.5 million, White Sox), Gavin Floyd ($1 million, Toronto), and Edwin Jackson ($507,000, Miami). The White Sox entered the low-risk, high-reward market on Latos and shored up the back of their rotation without breaking the bank, and could be rewarded for it come this summer.