Capping off an already strong bullpen

It's official: Chien-Ming Wang non-tendered
Football open thread

The Mad CapperWith Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain slated to start the 2010 season as members of the starting rotation, many fans are wondering how the Yanks will deal with the late inning bullpen void that those two have filled over the last few seasons. Some want to see them bring in Rafael Soriano Mike Gonzalez, others are content with letting David Robertson and Damaso Marte hold down the fort, while some are bringing up out of the box solutions. The Pirates, however, may have just gift-wrapped the Yanks a setup man by non-tendering their closer Matt Capps last night. Hey, it is the holiday season.

Capps (obligatory video) had a down year in 2009, posting an ugly 5.80 ERA in 51.1 IP despite converting 27 of 32 save opportunities. He also missed some time mid-season with elbow discomfort, though no structural damage was found. I wouldn’t bother writing this post if I didn’t think there was bounceback potential, and it’s pretty clear Capps has some.

First off, the enormous spike in his hit rate (12.1 H/9 in ’09 after 7.5 from ’07-’08) was fueled by an ungodly .370 BABIP, well off his career .279 mark coming into the season. Capps also experience a crazy spike in his homerun rate (1.7 HR/9 in ’09 after 0.7 in ’07-’08) despite a 40.7% fly ball percentage, his lowest in three years. Nearly 14% of the flyballs he gave up went over the fence, basically double his previous career average of around 7%. Regression to the mean in the BABIP and HR/FB% departments probably knock two runs off his ERA. The spikes are that ridiculous.

There’s basically two things you want your late game relievers to do (any pitcher, really), and that’s miss bats and throw strikes. Lord knows there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a reliever walk batters late in games. Thankfully, Capps doesn’t beat himself with free passes at all. He’s issued just 32 (!!!) unintentional walks in 271.2 career innings, even including his down year. That’s a 1.06 BB/9. Ridiculous. As for missing bats, Capps has a 6.9 career K/9 (7.6 last year), and batters have made contact on 82.2% of the swings they’ve taken against him, which isn’t great. Close to 70% of the pitches he’s thrown in his career have been strikes, including a whopping 67.7% on the first pitch, so he might be one of the rare guys who throws too many strikes. You have to admire his dedication to pounding the zone, but there’s nothing wrong with working an inch or three off the plate from time to time.

Despite the elbow issue, plus a shoulder related disabled list trip in 2008, Capps’ velocity was fine last year (92-94, mostly). He throws his fastball a little more than two-thirds of the time, using a slider to battle righties and a changeup against lefties. Prior to his subpar season in 2009, he showed a very small platoon split (.237-.262-.374 vs. RHB and .252-.294-.391 vs. LHB) thanks to that pair of offspeed pitches, so it’s not like you have to lift him against non-superstar lefthanders. Plus, at 6′-2″, 245 lbs, he fills the all-important bullpen fat guy role that’s been vacant since Chris Britton’s untimely departure.

At just 26-years-old (birthday is in September, so he’ll spend basically the entire 2010 at that age), there’s still plenty of room for improvement. It’s not like we’re talking about a 30-something journeyman here. Capps has legit end-game potential and is approaching what should be the prime of his career, and the best part is that the Yanks don’t necessarily need to count on him to be that guy. He can start the year as just one of the guys in the bullpen, eventually working his way into higher leverage innings.

Would Capps be down for that? Who knows. Saves equal bucks, and Capps has one more year of arbitration left after 2010, so middle relief would cut into his earning potential. Perhaps that could be solved with a two-year contract. He earned $2.3M last season, and was looking at $3M or so had he been tendered a contract. I’m not going to pretend to know what the price will be, but if it’s reasonable, I hope the Yanks would make a move.

Given the lack of attractive (and affordable) late game bullpen options on the market, I suspect Capps will draw significant interest. We’ve already seen four free agent relievers take home a combined $32.7M this offseason, and you could make a convincing case that Capps is better than all of ‘em. There’s usually one or two true non-tender gems a year, and this offseason there’s actually a fit for the Yanks. Hopefully they take advantage.

Photo Credit: Icon Sports Media

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It's official: Chien-Ming Wang non-tendered
Football open thread
  • Yages

    Adding Capps to the pen would be tremendous. Get him Cash!

    • http://fmylife.com JobaJr

      LOVE this idea. Lets do it!

    • Brian Ewart

      There really isn’t a huge downside to doing that. I’m on-board.

    • http://www.sportsradiony.com Sports Radio NY

      Although caps is coming off of a bad year he has had three good years, and with both Joba and Hughes moving to the starting rotation. It would be good to have another reliever back there to go to. Especially one who does not let up many walks and keeps from giving free passes to opposing hitters. Check out sportsradiony.com to stay updated with all New York sports talk.

    • Jeroboam

      Isn’t Capps too fat to be a Yankee?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bring-Melvin-To-America/193013541601?ref=nf Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Maybe his BABIP and h/9 averages went up because he he wasn’t very good. Maybe he didn’t walk anyone because everyone wanted to swing at his meat pitches? I think a minor league deal would be fair, so you could check his peripherals again next year, but I see no reason to put him on the 40 man roster at this time.

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Nostra-Artist

      Right, BABIP can go down for a hitter who’s making poor contact, and conversely go up for a pitcher who has nothing and is getting crushed. It’s not all luck. Small variations can be luck, big variations and there’s usually something else going on.

      • BklynJt

        Agreed. Babip has gotten so popular lately that it’s the go to stat when people try to make an argument in their favor. It’s easy to chalk things up to luck, but sometimes that’s just wishful thinkng.

        • Zack

          In this case though, dont you think its more plausible that a 26year old just had a bad/unlucky season after having 3 successful seasons than a 26 year old just magically sucking?

        • Zack

          In this case though, dont you think its more plausible that a 26year old just had a bad/unlucky season after having 3 successful seasons than a 26 year old just magically sucking?

          • BklynJT

            I dunno. To me, it’s really hard to justify something, one way or another, using luck as an explanation.

            • whozat

              but “I dunno…he just started to suck” is a better explanation?

              THe reason people use BABiP in this manner is because it can vary wildly year-to-year, especially in the small sample sizes that relievers rack up relative to starters. We could look at his LD% and such to get at least an approximation of the kind of contact guys were making. It’s possible he started throwing meatballs because his shoulder hurt but he didn’t want to take anything off, which could explain the homer rate. I don’t know.

  • Accent Shallow

    I wasn’t aware of his Mariano-esque walk rate, which is a definite point in his favor. However, I’m not crazy about his general flyball tendencies and his high contact rate. If we need someone outside the system for the pen, I’d rather try and swing a deal for a hard thrower who’s a little lower on his current team’s depth chart.

    • Chip

      He had a GB/FO of 1.00 last season, is that having flyball tendencies?

      • Accent Shallow

        Per Fangraphs, he has a career GB% of 36%, and a flyball percentage of 43.8%. (And in his 2007 and 2008, when he was very effective, he was around 31.5% groundballs, and 50% flyballs)

        I’d feel safe calling him a flyball pitcher.

        • Chip

          Yeah I agree that he’s a flyball pitcher. It’s just weird that he had his worst season by far when he gave up fewer fly balls.

          • vin

            Not really… groundballs go for hits more frequently than flyballs.

            • Brian Ewart

              that seems about right.

              • Chip

                I’m not saying that groundballs don’t go for hits more frequently but they certainly don’t go for doubles or homeruns more frequently. That’s why guys like Mo, Wang and Webb attempt to get guys to ground out.

                • http://d-ness dan

                  Remember Kyle Farnsworth? The highly touted Cubs fireballer who came to the Yankees and just got crushed? The new stadium is not good for flyball pitchers. A guy can accidentally throw a slider a few inches high and have it fisted over the fence in Yankee Stadium². So my question is, how does an extreme flyball pitcher fit into this master plan?

  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Nostra-Artist

    was fueled by an ungodly .370 BABIP, well off his career .279 mark coming into the season. Capps also experience a crazy spike in his homerun rate (1.7 HR/9 in ‘09 after 0.7 in ‘07-’08) despite a 40.7% fly ball percentage, his lowest in three years. Nearly 14% of the flyballs he gave up went over the fence, basically double his previous career average of around 7%. Regression to the mean in the BABIP and HR/FB% departments probably knock two runs off his ERA.

    Spikes in HR/BABIP can be anomalies, or can be a result of the fact that you have absolutely nothing. I’d be interested in checking into that elbow situation, especially a lefty who features a slider, which puts loads of strain on the elbow. When it started, stats before and after and see if there’s any reason to believe he’ll be healthy next year. MRI’s can come up clean and there still be damage, as we saw with Bruney last year.

    • Zack

      Well Capps isnt a lefty?
      And his elbow wasnt a typical injury, had got hit directly in the elbow with a line drive- twice in the same month.

      • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Nostra-Artist

        Duh. The picture of him throwing with his Right hand should have been a tiny little clue for me.

        You’ll have to excuse me, my brain doesn’t wake up on Sunday until about noon.

        • Zack

          ha yeah i understand

  • Richard Deegan

    High upside, should be worth a $ MM gamble. Might just be a (temporary) head thing. Worth noting: much more effective (2009) on 0-1 days rest; most extra base hits came with 3 days’ rest. A disproportionately high amount (OK, small sample size) came with Jaramillo catching. And, finally, last 28 days much closer to his normal numbers.

  • Johan Iz My Brohan

    Another interesting name that was non-tendered and that I would like the Yankees to look into for the bullpen is Jose Arredondo, he was pretty bad last year, but his rookie year was real good.

    2008: 61IP 42H 15R 11ER 3HR 22BB 55K 1.62ERA 1.05WHIP .190BAA

    2009: 45IP 47H 30R 30ER 6HR 23BB 47K 6.00ERA 1.56WHIP .269BAA

    He is having TJ surgery this year though, and would likely be ready in 2011.

    • Accent Shallow

      Certainly couldn’t hurt as a flyer, although that’d obviously be an MiL deal.

    • donttradecano

      His bad year could be due to the fact that he might have been pitching hurt.

      • scooter

        After KRod left, wasn’t Arredondo supposed to be the long-term closer solution for the Angels?

        You’d expect the Angels to try to negotiate a Lieber-like deal with him – but I’d give him and Capps a call if I were Cashman.

  • Chip

    None of those numbers make sense at all. Looking at the velocity charts, he actually gained a few ticks in velocity last year. Not to mention, his line-drive rate and GB/FO ratio was near the high end of his career. I’d imagine he either has a pitch-tipping problem or got way too predictable last season. A few more off the plate would probably do him wonders, very few guys can throw the ball over the plate as often as Mo and get away with it for long.

  • Dan

    I think the Yanks should trade Gardner + _____ for Matt Thorton the White Sox set up man. They have been very interested in Gardner and Thorton posted a 2.74 ERA last year

    • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Nostra-Artist

      With the Hoffman Rule 5 pick up and the Grandy trade, they really should investigate trading one of Melky/Gardner. If they sign Damon or another OF (Cameron) then it’s hard to imagine when one of the would play.

      But even as I type that, I remember we were saying the exact same thing last year about Swisher and Nady. There’s really no rush, and you could deal one of them mid season next year and probably get a bigger return.

      • Evil Empire

        There’s a huge difference between Swisher/Nady’s bats and Melky/Gardner’s, and in that situation, it was between 2 players for one starting job and one power bat on the bench.

        Here, we have 3 CFers. If we do indeed sign Damon or Cameron, one of those two really does have to go, even if it just means sending Gritner down to AAA.

        I think it would be awesome to get Matt Thorton, I really like him. He’ll be 34 in September but the past two years, he’s put up extremely good peripherals to go along with an ERA in the mid twos. And Kenny Williams is an idiot, we can get a deal done without it hurting too much.

  • http://www.theyankeeuniverse.com/ Nostra-Artist

    Another factor in picking up Capps is that unlike many other Relievers, as a non tender he won’t cost the team that signs him a draft pick.

  • Alan

    As soon as I saw his name pop up on the non-tender list, I immediately thought he should be a Yankee. Normally, I’m not a fan of bringing in outside guys for the bullpen. But, this guy has closer experience, an ungodly walk rate, and he’s still young. Give him to Eiland and Harkey, see if they can do something with him.

    So much for being the gem of the Pirates bullpen.

  • donttradecano

    What about signing Arredando for cheap for two years, with hope he can pitch in 2011?

  • Paul C

    Young and talented kid…Get him Cash…perfect place for him is in NY…

  • http://www.wiredtowns.com Short Porch

    Yes, do it. Throws strikes, 26, good pitcher before last year.

  • Alex S

    does he really want to come here for middle relief when he could get big bucks closing?

    • Zack

      No one said he would; but no one is thinking he’s going to get ‘big bucks’ from anyone.

      • Alex S

        he can score a closer job easily and after a few years score the “big bucks”

    • Alan

      Who said he needs to be middle relief? Install him as the set-up man, let him learn from Mo, and maybe he can become the closer in the future.

  • E-ROC

    You could add Jose Arredondo and DJ Carrasco to that list. Arredondo should be given a Sergio Mitre contract given his upcoming TJ surgery.

    I like Anthony Reyes and Adam Miller for starting pitching depth.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I like Adam Miller as much as the next guy, but the guy’s a physical disaster. He just had another setback. The guy makes Carl Pavano look as durable as Greg Maddux.

      • Alan

        Adam Miller is crying in the corner of a room somewhere after that remark.

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          ..and a tear fell off his cheek and shattered his ring finger.

          That guy makes Mr. Glass look durable.

      • E-ROC

        Heh, I didn’t know he had another setback in his rehab. I guess that would be a ‘no.’

      • Accent Shallow

        Mark Prior without the MLB success?

  • steve (different one)

    can we get an MLE for Capps’ numbers from Pittsburgh?

    • Accent Shallow

      Oof.

    • DP

      Excellent.

  • Jake H

    Hopefully he wouldn’t want a lot of money. I don’t want them to pay any relievers too much money. I like the Kevin Towers approach.

  • Januz

    There is no position in baseball that is a bigger waste than a closer for a bad team. I think about K-Rod in 2008 vs K-Rod in 2009. For example: You saw games that he blew for the Mets (Such as the Washington game with a Grand Slam), that he NEVER blew for the Angels. The Pirates have sucked for 17 years, so why even keep him around? My problem is this. If Cashman could get something for Bruney (Who is far worse than Capps), why did the Bucs not try an get something fot him?
    As for Capps, although I would like him on the Yankees, I think the logical place for him to go is the Angels, who had Daisy oops Brian Fuentes closing last year (Think they missed K-Rod and vice versa?), or the Phillies (Insurance for Lidge falling apart).

  • emac2

    Interesting.

    An overpriced, NL, flyball pitcher.

    Does this guy really have any fewer question marks then the options we have in our system?

    Are we that afraid to develop our own guys?

    • steve (different one)

      there are 7 spots in the bullpen.

      there is plenty of opportunity to add a non-tender candidate AND develop our own guys. the bullpen is the one area where this argument is a red herring.

      look at the Yankee bullpen in April and in September last year. even if Capps came in and dominated, there will still be a bevy of homegrown arms getting opportunities next year.

      • steve (different one)

        note, i’m not saying that Capps specifically is the way to go. to be honest, i don’t know that much about him.

        my point is really that Cashman shouldn’t shut himself off to any available source of talent if it improves the team.

        • RichYF

          Agreed. Cost is the one factor when comparing internal to external options, but the Yankees just “saved” a couple million by dumping Bruney. Capps *could* replace him on the roster. Is it the right play? I’m not sure, but there are funds available.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    Sounds like a guy throwing BP to me. The question is, how badly injured is he? If, and it is a big if, he would take an incentive laden contract, and be willing to work it out in the minors, then OK. Otherwise, try and bring Wang back into the fold.

    • Jeffrey

      Kevin brings up an important point – how badly injured is he? The bad numbers last year and the concurrent elbow problems are a huge red flag. Could this be the reason that the Pirates let him go?

  • Evil Empire

    Its hard to find a reliever worth a shit that won’t cost you your #1 draft pick, so I agree with Mike, if he can be had for a reasonable 2 year deal, Capps makes sense.

  • Evil Empire

    On the subject of the bullpen, I would like to see Nova or ZMac (if he has a quality first half in AAA) to get the Joba/Phranchise treatment and be put into the pen for part of the year. The prospects get experience throwing at the major league level and the Yankees can replace the weakest links in the bullpen with (presumably) better arms.

    • steve (different one)

      plus, if it’s ever time to move them into the rotation, we can listen to 1000’s of hours on why the yankees are idiots for doing that!! added bonus.

      • scooter

        For example, it’s another opportunity for Francesa to remind us that Andy Pettitte is a starting pitcher

        I could see this at some point near mid-season – assuming the starting pitching depth is OK. Without IPK, Nova and ZMac are just behind Gaudin and Mitre in the starting pitching pecking order.

        • Evil Empire

          Yeah, it might make the most sense to just have one or the other sent up to the bullpen to keep the depth.

          As long as one of Joba and Hughes are successful as starters in 2010 (and assuming the top 3 stay healthy), the team shouldn’t have many worries about needing the pitcher who is 8th on the starting depth chart in that capacity.

          Plus, even if we are experiencing some cracks in the rotation, the Yankees probably would prefer to make a move for a more experienced starter than lean on inexperienced B prospects down the stretch.

    • Stryker

      i don’t know if i agree with pulling the joba/phil bullpen role thing, more so that they’d be taking these guys (notably ivan nova and zach mcallister) from the minors and messing with their development as a starting pitcher just to address a major league need.

      sure they’d get major league experience, but it’s my opinion that they should continue to build up innings and get that every-five-day experience rather than coming in for a batter or two or multiple innings in a mop up role at the major league level.

      we have a lot of options for pitching – especially if the yankees retain gaudin and mitre. sure you can never have too much as the cliche goes, but at what cost? do you think having a young guy from the minors fool with his development is worth using him in a role similar to that sergio mitre (someone who has major league experience)?

      • Evil Empire

        If it truncates their development then no, it probably isn’t worth it. But if they’re ready to move up the ladder – isn’t Nova 26 years old? – its would probably behoove them to spend the 2nd half of the season in the major leagues. If they need more innings after the season is done, throw the guy into the DWL or something.

        • AndrewYF

          Nova is 22 years old. He signed as an international free agent at the age of 18, and thus needed to be added to the 40-man this year. Although I agree that it seems like he’s been around forever.

          • Evil Empire

            Oh wow, so he is. Clearly I “misremembered” what I read on his prospect profile.

            That’s awesome, I like the kid that much more now, knowing he has years to go before he hits his peak.

    • Jeffrey

      Sorry I just don’t get all the excitement over Nova. He is a returned rule 5 pick without very good numbers in the minors. How did he suddenly become one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects?

  • A.D.

    While Capps would be a nice addition, gotta figure that he can probably get a closing job elsewhere & pretty much no matter where he goes he’ll have a better chance to win compared to when he was in Pitt.

  • Drew

    What decent team needs a closer?
    http://mlb.mlb.com/stats/sorta.....tByStat=SV

    Maybe Detroit. Maybe Cubbies.

    I mean there really aren’t that many teams with a hole in the closer position as of now.

    If he can’t get a closing job, what is the next best thing? Setting up for the greatest closer ever? Yes plz. I think we have a shot at this guy and I’d love to add him. He had a horrid ’09 but as we all know, volatility is expected in the bullpen. There’s no reason he can’t return to 06-08 form.

    • whozat

      but he doesn’t need to close for a _good_ team to keep up that earnings potential, he just needs that closer moniker somewhere. WE’ll see if the yanks are willing to pay to offset that and, depending on how much money it is, if we think they should :-/

      • Drew

        True. If you go a bit further, there aren’t that many teams in need of a closer. Both good and bad teams. The O’s, Marlins, maybe Toronto… Bottom line, this year there just aren’t that many teams in need of a closer.

    • http://sportsshowlive.blogspot.com/ Joey H

      I think that after the Gregg experience last year they are going to want something more SURE. Sweet Lou said they are inclined to use Marmol based on what he did when he took over the closing gig, 13/13 in save chances.

  • Amol

    Well, regardless of whether the Yankees sign Capps, this is yet another example of how foolish it is to trade talent or give up draft picks to get relief help.

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