2011 Analysis: Chris Capuano

Way back in 2008, I wondered if the Mets would consider Chris Capuano as a “low-risk” free-agent pickup. I wondered the same thing in 2009. Luckily, the Mets didn’t sign him either time, since he was still going through the rehabilitation process following Tommy John surgery. But, the third time I brought him up was a charm, as “Cappy” turned out to be a solid, reliable starter — and, he lived up to my preseason prediction:

Personally, I think Capuano is a safe bet to be better than Jeff Francis or Chris Young in 2011; you heard it here first.

Chris Capuano started strong, peaked in July, then had a rough go through the final two months of the season. During last offseason we heard he was touching 92-93 MPH with his fastball, but that wasn’t seen in reality. He did, however, stay right around 90 MPH — sometimes slightly above, sometimes slightly below — and kept batters off balance with well-placed nasty change-ups and an occasional breaking ball. Runners did not steal bases on him, period (9 successful steals in 14 attempts, or a 64% rate, through 33 games and 186 innings). He gave the Mets at least 5 innings in all but two of his 31 starts; in fact, he didn’t go less than five until September 5th. Nearly every time he took the mound, he gave the Mets a legitimate chance to win. In short, he was the innings-eater the Mets have needed at the back of their rotation since 2007. That’s the good news.

Now, the bad news. First off, his startling slide down the stretch is concerning. It may have been the result of it being Capuano’s first full MLB season since 2007. That’s plausible — he could simply have become fatigued. However, what my eyes saw was not necessarily fatigue; I saw a pitcher who was throwing with the same velocity, movement, and overall “stuff” as he was at the beginning of the year, but was getting hit hard by batters who had eventually “figured him out”.

The other negative — and it might be nitpicking — was the fact that although Capuano nearly always went five innings, he rarely went beyond six. He pitched beyond the sixth inning seven times out of his 31 starts (including one complete-game shutout). A few years ago, you’d be pleased with a back-end starter who took the ball thirty times and was a guarantee to give you five innings every time out — even if it was only five or six innings he would go. At present, however, the game is changing slightly, with offense muted somewhat and as a result starters are expected to go just a bit longer.

2012 Projection

With a brand-new elbow, Chris Capuano has at least a few years of MLB ahead of him. Whether he can improve in his 30s is questionable; most likely, he “is what he is”: a soft-tossing, crafty lefty who is durable and reliable. Jamie Moyer pitched into his mid-40s with a similar skill set. But will Capuano pitch for the Mets in 2012 and beyond? My guess is no, unless he really wants to stay in Flushing.

By taking the ball 31 times, Capuano proved to be healthy again. He wasn’t spectacular, but he was good enough to convince teams that he can be a good #5 starter on contending team. Seeing similarly reliable and durable but otherwise mediocre pitchers such as Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood, etc., become rich, I would think that Capuano can get himself a somewhat significant 2- or 3-year deal on the open market. If it takes a multi-year deal costing $9-15M to re-sign Capuano, does it make sense for the rebuilding, cost-cutting Mets? Or are they better off finding another reclamation project? As much as I like Capuano, my feeling is that their choice is the latter.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Timo October 31, 2011 at 2:33 pm
    3rd time is a charm. I think Cappy will get more money on the open market. Jeff Suppan got a big deal after an above average year. So why can’t Cappy. Someone will show him the money, I just hope it won’t be the Mets. UNLESS, we spend to get big free agents. Cappy is definitely an upgrade to Pelf.
    • Joe Janish October 31, 2011 at 10:39 pm
      Agreed on all counts. Cappy would be a good signing for the Mets if they were serious about winning in 2012 — but, if they’re serious, then they also need to go after CJ Wilson and a few other pitchers.

      At the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they signed Capuano and didn’t sign any other big names. Flushing is poised for mediocrity for at least the next two years.

  2. Joe November 1, 2011 at 8:44 am
    “At present, however, the game is changing slightly, with offense muted somewhat and as a result starters are expected to go just a bit longer. ”

    I don’t get the idea that it is really expected that a back-ended NL starter has to go past the sixth, especially if he consistently keeps you in the game during the five plus to six innings he will give you. The pen would be used in those cases a bit more. On some lesser AL teams too, with the paucity of decent pitching, a Cappy would be good enough too.

  3. NormE November 1, 2011 at 3:39 pm
    The problem with having Cappy go 5-6innings is that the Mets have few starters who give you much more. The strain on the bullpen is too much. Cappy would be okay if you could count on the other starters giving you a consistent 7-8 innings. Pelfrey, Gee, Niese are lucky to get through 5-6 just like Cappy. Only Dickey can be counted on to give you more. And who knows what Santana will be able to do?

    I think the market for Cappy will be fairly good and his price tag will be higher than the Mets should go, but Cappy has to find a team with a bullpen that can support his shorter starts.

  4. argonbunnies November 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm
    Suppan earned his big contract off 3 straight years of a .600+ winning % (back when people still thought Wins were huge — see 2005 Cy Young Colon) and an ERA better than league average.

    Cappy just posted an ERA a whopping 18% WORSE than league average. Anyone who gives him $15 mil now is an idiot. If Jon Garland’s only getting 1-year deals, I’d expect the same for Capuano.