Mat Latos and the potential to be what Jeff Samardzija was supposed to be

If you’re wondering how the White Sox got Mat Latos, who was a 4-WAR starter in his prime, years on a one-year, $3 million deal — here’s a look at what has plagued his career.

And there is some locker room stuff, too.

For as long as I’ve followed Chicago baseball (I turn 30 in July, for whatever that’s worth to you) the White Sox haven’t had problems singing troubled souls. A.J. Pierzynski, Albert Belle, Carl Everett, Wil Cordero, Bobby Jenks … even recently with Adam Eaton and Brett Lawrie. Just add Latos to the pile and hope he’s more Pierzynski than Everett or Cordero.

There was a time in which I assumed Latos was destined for a big payday. He had just come off a four-year run from 2010-13 that had him among the 20 best starters in baseball. Here are Latos’ numbers in those years:

  • 51-35 (127 starts), 799.0 IP, 3.27 ERA/3.29 FIP/3.53 xFIP, 16.0 fWAR

Latos was a 4-WAR starter on average with a FIP that ranked in the top-20 and an xFIP that put him among the 30 best starters. The Reds weren’t known for shelling out multiple-big money contracts at the same time, thus making Latos a prime candidate to leave via free agency in two years.

Then, 2014 and 2015 happened:

  • 9-15 (37 starts), 218.2 IP, 4.16 ERA/3.69 FIP/3.83 xFIP, 3.2 fWAR

Injuries derailed Latos’ promising career and at minimum delayed a significant payday. The White Sox will make Latos’ fifth organization in three years (Reds, Marlins, Dodgers, Angels) and a bounce-back year could make him a candidate for a long-term, big money contract in the future.

Latos started to re-gain his fastball before being traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers, but never seemed to find consistency anywhere he went last year. When things were going right for Latos, his fastball and slider played well off each other.

The slider was the more effective pitch, coming in with a 48.3 wSL, which rated as the fifth best in baseball from 2010-13. But the fastball (19.2 wFB; 27th) was no slouch and neither was his curveball (11.5 wCB; 15th).

If the body is healthy and the mind is right enough to stay in his lane, Latos could be one of the biggest steals of free agency.

And if he’s going right, Latos could prove to be the sturdy right-handed starter the White Sox thought they acquired when they traded for Jeff Samardzija before last season.

Interesting to note Samardzija’s peripherals since becoming a full-time starter in 2012 (12.2 fWAR, 3.69 FIP/3.56 xFIP in 127 starts) aren’t too far off from Latos’ (11.1 fWAR, 3.55 FIP/3.73 xFIP … but only in 105 games/102 starts).

It feels like the White Sox are rolling the dice on a different incarnation of Samardzija. One that came at a lower cost and bigger injury/clubhouse risks, but with higher upside.

But at $3 million, it’s probably a risk worth taking.

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Talking honestly and freely about the Chicago Bulls

I was piecing together a Bulls post recently, saving draft after draft waiting to share my thoughts detailing the state of the team.

Monday’s loss against the Jazz happened and I scrapped it.

This team was deserving of a clean slate and a fresh perspective.

The Bulls are a mess and I’m not sure how to fix it. There isn’t a feasible short-term fix that would make a contender out of this team, nor is there a simple long-term solution, either.

With Jimmy Butler performing at an All-Star level and Derrick Rose (relatively) healthy, the Bulls are simply too talented to tank for a draft pick. But it’s obvious they aren’t talented enough to overtake the Cavaliers in a best-of-seven series unless something catastrophic happened to perennial MVP candidate LeBron James.

Welcome to Basketball Hell.


 

Coach Fred Hoiberg has taken a fair share of criticism in his first year, but I’m cautious to pile on considering this is what the powers that be wanted.

This was supposed to appease those who cringed at the thought of overloading an aging frontcourt of Pau Gasol (35), Joakim Noah (30) and Taj Gibson (30) with heavy minutes in the regular season. And it is what level-headed minds wanted with the idea of preserving Derrick Rose’s body and Jimmy Butler’s steady two-way production for an entire season (and postseason).

The Try-Hard Bulls of the regular season were taking a backseat for an organization trying to see a bigger picture for a fanbase with an all-too-familiar refrain.

“If only this team was healthy come the postseason…”

It’s unfair to compare Hoiberg’s first year with that of former coach Tom Thibodeau, who inherited a healthy Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, plus additions that made the Bulls deep and talented enough to reach the Eastern Conference Finals in Year One.

Hoiberg inherited a fractured roster that had logged a ton of miles in recent years.

Further complicating matters for the 2015-16 Bulls is that they returned 13 of the 14 players on the 2014-15 team and 6 of 8 players who played the most minutes on the 2013-14 team.

And nothing says #SameOldBulls like Hoiberg’s coaching staff which features Jim Boylan (who served as a Bulls interim coach after Scott Skiles was fired in 2007-08), Jim Boylen (not to be confused with the other guy), two former Bulls Pete Myers (whose coaching career with the Bulls date backs to Bill Cartwright’s time with the team) and Randy Brown (who is in his first year as an assistant coach).

The Bulls play it so close to home, their hiring process seems like nepotism.

New year. Same Bulls. Literally.

As a point of contrast with how good organizations operate, remember what first-year coach Steve Kerr did when he started at Golden State.

Kerr hired experienced assistants who were successful with previous teams. He hired Alvin Gentry, with whom he worked with when he was the Suns’ general manager. He also hired Ron Adams, who was Thibodeau’s right-hand man with the Bulls who has coached in the NBA since 1992.

First-year coach brings on experienced assistants. Now, that is quite a concept.

 

And yet, Hoiberg isn’t blameless.

He has had questionable rotations and his line-up management leaves much to be desired. Jimmy Butler still carries the kind of heavy work load that makes onlookers weary.

The end of Monday’s loss against Utah was a prime example as a fatigued Butler missed a pair of overtime free throws and badly clanked a 3-point attempt. In fairness, you have to ride your best players who are in the primes of their career in this manner when the team is in its competitive window.

Hoiberg is an easy scapegoat. But if the coach is going to get blame for roster management, then those who put together said roster should be held accountable, too.


 

As mentioned above, the Bulls’ front office duo of John Paxson and Gar Forman has brought back many of the same players who played for the last two Bulls’ teams. In case you were wondering why this team gives often gives you a feeling of déjà vu.

For years, this front office tandem seemed to have devalued offensive efficiency — and it finally seems to have caught up with a team that struggles with ball-movement and shot selection in half-court sets.

In Thibodeau’s final year, the Bulls ranked 11th in ORtg (an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions) and that represented a jump from 18th from 2010-11 to 2013-14.

Prior to the 2014-15 success, the Bulls 22nd in FG%, 26th in 2PT%, 23rd in eFG% and 18th in ORtg.

The Thibodeau Era Bulls shot the 3-pointer efficiently (.357 3PT% ranks 10th in the NBA since 2010-11), but they didn’t shoot it often enough (7,081 attempts were sixth fewest in that same time span) to make a positive difference in their scoring output.

Basketball has evolved to where efficient ball movement can make multiple perimeter scoring threats dangerous. The Bulls don’t have those kinds of threats and certainly don’t possess that kind of ball movement. Hence, they are where they are right now.


The Bulls don’t miss 30-year-old Joakim Noah — they miss the guy who played at an elite defensive level prior to the 2014-15 season. Noah is a cult hero because of the hard work he puts into playing the game. His efforts over the years were admirable, but unfortunately not enough to take the Bulls where they ultimately wanted to go.

He is painted as this embodiment of everything that Chicago sports is supposed to be. And I don’t think that’s fair — or even correct. However, I offer the following.

Noah encapsulates everything the Bulls have represented in the GarPax Era.

Few players have done more with less than Noah, who made up for having limited offensive value with a tireless work ethic to get (and stay) in shape and a non-stop motor that helped his team win with defense, rebounding and skilled passing for a big-man. He went from a draft day punch line to an All-Star fan favorite.

In sum, Noah’s efforts were good. Damn good, in fact. But not good enough.

Much like the team-building efforts of GarPax.


My original draft had various thoughts on Bulls second-year forward Nikola Mirotic, much of which has ended up on the cutting room floor. But some things need to be addressed here.

Mirotic was tapped to represent the World Team in the Rising Stars Game during the All-Star Game Weekend. A trip that will likely be nixed because of an appendectomy.

Naturally, my basketball sensibilities are offended seeing “Mirotic” and “Rising Star” used as freely as they were after the announcement.

Mirotic has taken a significant step back in his development in his second season.

  • His FG% has dipped from 40.5% to 38.6% (shooting 42.2% on 2-pointers will do that to a shooting percentage)
  • And that is despite his 3PT% improving from 31.6% to 35.4%
  • His TS% (True Shooting Percentage) has decreased from 55.6% to 52.8%, while his eFG% has dipped slightly from 48.5% to 48.1%

I’m on the fence on Mirotic because his mistakes aren’t the kind he should be making now. This is where Hoiberg can earn some stripes if he can help straighten out Mirotic.

Check out two key Mirotic’s shooting splits:

  • 22.2% on attempts between 3-16 feet.
  • 28.2% on jumpers between 16-feet and the 3-point stripe

At least he is shooting 60.9% in attempts at the rim, but all of his other 2-point attempts add up to 23-for-93 — or an ice-cold 24.7%.

Mirotic’s two-point attempts that aren’t at the rim account for 23.9% of his total shot attempts. Meaning nearly one of every four attempts is from a spot on the floor where Mirotic is missing more than 75 percent of his shots.

Yikes.

At this point, Mirotic needs a shift in philosophy. The Bulls can probably produce an improved Mirotic if they cut down on the attempts that bring down his efficiency and increase his looks from the 3-point arc. At this point, it might be one of those can’t hurt, could help situations.


Despite all this, the Bulls will wake up on Tuesday with a 26-21 record and four games clear of the Hornets (23-25), who are on the outside-looking-in as the ninth seed.

Unless the team is dismantled, it is a safe bet we’ll be seeing the Bulls in the postseason.

But it is safe to say their stay will not likely be a long one.