Mailbag: Chris Capuano

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Mailbag: Can the 2011 starting rotation be better than 2010's?
(Morry Gash/AP)

Mark L. writes: Worthwhile to look at [Chris] Capuano?

Yesterday I was looking for an excuse to write about Chris Capuano, and I thank Mark L. for handing it to me. Capuano is an interesting pitcher for a few reasons, though not all of them are good. But given the Yankees’ current pitching situation, they can’t turn away and possibly productive additions.

The first thing many people will want to know after looking at Capuano’s FanGraphs page is why there are no entries for 2008 and 2009. This is the first reason why Capuano is interesting. He spent those two years recovering from Tommy John surgery. That might seem like an inordinate amount of time for recovery; usually we see pitchers come back in 12 to 18 months, and some have made it back quicker. For Capuano, though, it was his second TJ surgery. He did pitch some low-level minor league innings in 2009, but after surgery in May of 2008 his real comeback didn’t begin until 2010.

After about 40 minor league rehab innings, Capuano re-joined the Brewers in early June for a start in Florida. He got lit up pretty bad in 3.2 innings and after that moved to the bullpen. After 15 relief appearances he moved back into the rotation for a final seven starts. Save for the first one they went quite a bit better than his first go-round. All told he had nine starts, which is hardly a sample from which we can draw conclusions. Of those nine starts, only four laster six innings or longer. That makes him a tough candidate for a starting staff. Yet his insistence on being a starter next season was part of the reason why he and the Brewers broke off negotiations.

As expected, Capuano’s numbers were better out of the pen than they were in the rotation. These numbers run the gamut: strikeout rate, walk rate, FIP, xFIP, ERA, WHIP, etc. This is to be expected. Most pitchers’ stuff will play up better in the pen than in the rotation. While that doesn’t mean that all pitchers are destined for the pen, it does mean that some will perform far better in relief than they do as a starter. Given Capuano’s history and his numbers, it appears that he is one of those guys. Unless he doesn’t find a starting gig and relents, I can’t see much of a fit for the Yankees.

My biggest problem with Capuano is his home run rate. In 777.2 career innings he has allowed 110 HR, or 1.27 HR/9. That rate has been fairly consistent from year to year. He combines this with neither a superb strikeout rate, 7.4 per nine, or an outstanding walk rate, 3.02 per nine. Both of those numbers are good, but they’re not enough to overcome the home run rate. This shows up in his peripheral ERAs, a 4.47 career FIP. This does not sound like a guy I want facing the potent offenses of the AL East.

What plays in Capuano’s favor is his handedness. Anyone who throws with his left arm, regardless of how many times that arm has been reconstructed, will get chance after chance. Considering the bevy of left-handed power threats in the AL East, having a few lefties on hand is certainly desirable. The Yankees have already addressed this issue by signing Pedro Feliciano, plus a number of lefties on minor league contracts. Capuano could be another solid addition to the bullpen.

While he does allow home runs to lefties, it’s not nearly to the same degree as to righties. He also strikes out more lefties and walks far fewer. Again, we can turn to his peripheral ERAs to get a good comparison. Against righties he has a career 4.79 FIP, while against lefties he has a 3.23 FIP. If this doesn’t scream lefty reliever I don’t know what does. If he were willing to sign a deal as a reliever, I’d completely advocate this move. But I don’t think that scenario will ever arise.

There are plenty of teams that can afford to gamble on a lefty with some upside. The Pirates, for instance, can likely find a spot for Capuano in the rotation. If he wants to rebuild his value, he’s probably better off heading to bottom dweller and proving himself there. He’d then likely be in line for a bigger contract next winter. He could rebuild some value pitching out of the pen for a first division team, but if that were the case why wouldn’t he just stay in Milwaukee? They’ve built up quite a 2011 team, but they don’t have room in the rotation.

We enjoy exploring all possible free agent options, and I’m glad someone wrote about Capuano (though I’m sure I would have written about him anyway). But at this time it doesn’t appear there’s a match. Capuano wants a starting gig, but that’s not his optimal role on a contender. If for some reason he doesn’t find a gig in a poor team’s rotation and decides he’ll pitch in relief for a first division team, I’d love to see him as another lefty in the Yanks pen. Otherwise, he’s just another guy whom we’ll discuss, but we’ll never see in pinstripes.

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Mailbag: Yu Darvish
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  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    I like him a lefty reliever/longman out of the pen, but a starter? Hells naw.

  • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

    I’d take him as a long reliever, but only for one year and minimum cash.

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

    Meh.

  • “The Patriot” Del Wilkes

    I went to high school with Chris…would be pretty cool rooting for him…assuming he even pitches in 2011.

    • johnny

      Hey so did I, I actually got to see him at the my 10 year H.S. reunion…he was quite the d-bag. He was hitting on my friends wife even after he knew that she was married, and was being all chummy with her husband at the same time. At one drunken point I think I threated to rip off his left arm and beat him with it if he didnt cut the shit.

    • Bill R

      I interviewed him when i worked for the local Springfield Tv station WGGB and i asked him if he would ever sign with the yankees and he said no way he’s too much of a sox fan.

  • MattG

    I like my swingmen. I would give him the ‘ole compete for a starting job in ST. At present, he would need only beat out Mitre.

    If he ends up starting 15 times for the NYY, I don’t think that’d be so bad.

  • bottom line

    Just about anyone would be an improvement over Mitre. Also, Sox could be vulnerable to lefties this year.

  • Mark L.

    Excellent breakdown. As a lefty version of Gaudin, I could think of worse uses of $1-2 million.

    • Mike HC

      Lefty version of Gaudin was my thought exactly. He would be a nice guy to have around, but it seems like he is looking for more of a guaranteed chance to start which the Yanks can’t give him.

  • Johnny O

    When the calendar turned to November, I never imagined I’d read a post before the New Year discussing the merits of adding Chris Capuano to the rotation. Damn you, Cliff Lee.

  • Gonzo

    Sounds like a pitcher for the Nats.

  • Reggie C.

    I can recall Capuano’s good years (’05 & ’06) which weren’t too long ago. Damn, the worm does turn fast for young starters. Perhaps having a kid jump from 90 innings to 200 innings isn’t such a good idea.

  • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

    Anyone, anything over Mitre. Worth a shot, but I’m sure he’d prefer somewhere that could given him guaranteed starts.

  • Accent Shallow

    On the one hand, he’s potentially useful as an LHP version of Gaudin.

    On the other hand, an 88 mph fastball? Yikes.

    • whozat

      eh. From a lefty that’s not CC or Price, that’s pretty standard.

  • miketotheg

    Sign him up! Longman/spot starter proving himself on a big stage for a big contract sounds good. If he sucks trade him to the mets. Lol.

  • SRB

    Continued discussions on slug retreads w/ little upside- Bring on the KIDS!!!!!!

    • whozat

      Which kids? The ones that aren’t that good, or the ones that are promising but not ready yet? And who will step in should a kid fail or a vet get injured?

      Oh…right…you hadn’t bothered to think it all the way through yet.

      • Mike HC

        I know everyone is sick of hearing it, but bring on Joba. If Joba is miraculously turned into a starter because we couldn’t land one legitimate pitcher this off season, I would call it a successful off season.

        • whozat

          I think they should be doing that anyway, unless they’re confident that his shoulder won’t hold up. And if they were confident his shoulder wouldn’t hold up…they should have moved him last offseason when they could still sell him as a starter.

          • Mike HC

            I’m right there with you. Except Joba may have less value on the trade market than we think.

            • whozat

              He would now. the 2009-2010 offseason…I don’t think he would have. He’d just put up a whole, healthy season, hadn’t hit arbitration yet, had shown some success, and was what…23?

  • Frank

    Enough of Capuano- let’s move to the next topic- the pros and cons of Bruce Chen.

    • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

      ….there are cons of Bruce Chen?

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

        Yes, plenty. Very few pros though.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Pro: Chen and Rivera are both Panamanian, so Mo would have a new best friend on the team.

          /media

        • Thomas

          Bruce Chen was the top left handed pitching prospect in the minor circa 1999. Kids love retro stuff, therefore Bruce Chen uniforms will sell like hotcakes.

        • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

          Forgot to throw the #sarcasm tag on that one.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ngoral Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

    I’d take a flier, as long as it’s as a limited role.

  • rossdfarian

    Excellent analysis! You guys at RAB are on the ball.

    (I would still take this guy over Ivan Nova, though.)

  • Doug

    “This does not sound like a guy I want facing the potent offenses of the AL East.”

    and nova + mitre are better options for 30 starts apiece? not sure who everyone thinks is going to walk through the door. the millwoods and capuanos of the world are it right now.

  • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

    Mitre will not make 30 starts in 2011. He may, however, make 10. But I have a feeling that the fifth starter spot will rotate a bit.

  • SRB

    So, expert whozat has “thought it through” and wants to spend millions on the aged Kevin Browns, Randy Johnsons, etc. or just a few million on the broken down Mitres, Moselys, etc. who second division teams have given up on- Which kids aren’t that good? How do you know? And, if one gets injured, try another! Duh!

    • whozat

      Man, you really clobbered that strawman! WOW, it didn’t stand a chance! It’s almost like that’s not what I was saying at all, and you totally mischaracterized my argument so you could use sarcasm to avoid providing an actual answer to my question!