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:
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.
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.