2012 Dodgers in Review #27: SP Chris Capuano

November 21, 2012 at 9:51 am | Posted in 2012 in Review, Chris Capuano | Leave a comment

3.72 ERA 3.95 FIP 198.1 IP 7.35 K/9 2.45 BB/9 2.1 fWAR B

2012 in brief: Outstanding first half was followed by considerably less productive second half, but greatest achievement may have been simply staying healthy all year.

2013 status: Signed for $6m in final year of two-year deal and should return as back-end starter unless he’s traded first.

******

You know how little I think of wins and losses for pitchers, so take this as the statistical quirk it is. Five times in Chris Capuano‘s career, he’s been healthy enough to make at least 25 starts. Five times, he’s lost 12 games on the nose:

2005 MIL (18-12)
2006 MIL (11-12)
2007 MIL (5-12)
2011 NYM (11-12)
2012 LAD (12-12)

What’s that mean? Absolutely nothing at all, other than “Chris Capuano just doesn’t know how to win,” of course.  Anyway, when Capuano was signed last winter, it didn’t seem like such a terrible idea by itself…

Now I’ll say this for Capuano, he’s not an awful guy to have at the back of your rotation. Dinger rate aside, he was able to miss some bats last year, and while 2/$10m sounds like a lot for a mediocre guy in his 30s with two zippers on his elbow, that’s really the going rate. Bruce Chen got basically the same deal, don’t forget, and I like Capuano better than Chen. For a team that absolutely had to sign someone, this contract isn’t awful, and Capuano can only be helped by Dodger Stadium and the big ballparks of San Diego & San Francisco. The alternatives are atrocious, you need to fill out your rotation with someone, and apparently you like Ted Lilly so much that you need someone just like him. In a vacuum, I don’t hate this deal as much as you’d think; in fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it. So this is all fine.

…and the reasons we didn’t like it really had nothing to do with Capuano. We preferred Hiroki Kuroda, of course, and a rotation that had Lilly and Capuano and Aaron Harang was far from appealing. But that’s not really Capuano’s fault, is it? That goes back to Ned Colletti & Frank McCourt, and considering merely that Capuano took a decent deal to come fill out the back of the rotation, it was hard to argue with.

Of course, we were a lot less forgiving after just a single start:

That is, of course, until the wheels completely came off for Chris Capuano. There was a story out there this winter – I don’t have the link right now, and it’s late – about how while his peripheral stats were decent enough for the Mets last year, he absolutely could not go past the fifth inning, after which his OPS against went from a mid-.700 level straight to a Pujols-on-steroids level afterwards. That came an inning earlier than usual tonight, where after breezing through four scoreless, Capuano gave up a single and three walks, leaving the bases loaded for Jamey Wright. Wright – doing Jamey Wright things, don’t you know – then proceeded to walk each of the next two on eight straight balls, forcing home two runs, before being relieved himself; Scott Elbert allowed another run on a wild pitch and yet another on an Orlando Hudson single, during which the inning mercifully came to an end when catcher Nick Hundley was thrown out attempting to score.

That turned out to be pretty premature, obviously, since Capuano was actually pretty good through the first few months of the season. After that lousy debut, he proceeded to allow just 11 earned runs over his next nine starts, and so by the end of May he was 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA. For once, I’m going to skip the “wins & losses are stupid” jokes and just acknowledge that Capuano was really good, far better than expected. It wasn’t going to last – we knew this, because there was no way it could, and here’s me on May 16 wondering just when the regression was going to come – and it couldn’t last, but it barely even mattered at the time. Capuano was a back-end starter who was there basically to fill out the rotation, and here he was pitching like an All-Star.

For example, May 21:

To merely focus on Treanor is to neglect Chris Capuano, of course, who was once again excellent in allowing just one run and five baserunners over six scoreless innings. There was some well-founded worry that he’d come back to earth once he was forced out of Dodger Stadium & Petco Park, and that may yet be the case since he’s outpitching his FIP by more than a run, but he was outstanding tonight and really has been all season. At 6-1, 2.25, it’s not entirely impossible to see him becoming an under-the-radar All-Star candidate, since that’s the sort of superficial stat line that makes a guy like Tony LaRussa quiver.

While we waited on that regression to come, Capuano still had some magic left, because in his next start he struck out eight Astros over eight one-run innings. He then ran into trouble in back-to-back starts in Colorado & Philadelphia, allowing eight earned runs (and four homers!) between the two stops, but for the moment, that was a blip, since he followed that by allowing just four earned runs over his next three starts, including striking out 12 White Sox on June 17.

By the end of June, none of us were saying anything other than that the signing had worked out wonderfully, though with his peripherals all lagging behind what he’d done with the Mets the previous season, there was always that feeling of “when is this going to run out?” As the holy wars around Chad Billingsley heated up while Capuano was getting some All-Star talk, I felt compelled to make this comparison on June 22:

Instead, a thought question. Heading into tonight’s game, these two Dodger starters each had 14 starts this season. Their primary pitching stats could not have been more similar:

A) 81.2 IP  3.74 FIP  3.95 xFIP 8.27 K/9 3.31 BB/9 1.1 fWAR
B) 86.1 IP  3.82 FIP  3.91 xFIP 8.34 K/9 3.23 BB/9 1.1 fWAR

That’s Billingsley in line “A”, and Capuano in line “B”, and I don’t show these stats to try to defend Billingsley’s performance tonight. (Obviously, these numbers are not going to look so similar when tonight’s mess is included.) I point them out because I find the perception gap between these two pitchers fascinating. If you were to ask a random sampling of Dodger fans how they feel about the two, I’m guessing their reactions would be phenomenally different. Regarding Capuano, you’d probably hear terms like “All-Star selection” and “best signing of the winter”; for Billingsley, of the few replies which would even be printable, you’d almost certainly hear responses like “get rid of the loser” and that “he doesn’t have any heart”.

That’s probably more about Billingsley than it is about Capuano, but I still find it fascinating. Unfortunately for Capuano, that expected regression did come, and it was (mostly) downhill from there. After allowing more than three earned runs just four times in 18 first half starts, he did so five times in only 14 second half starts. Capuano ended July by getting hit hard in losses to Arizona & St. Louis, but managed to turn in his best start of the season on August 12 in Miami, taking a no-hitter into the seventh and striking out 10 Marlins.

But that would be the last high point. Capuano gave up six runs against the Giants on August 22, and six more against the Rockies on August 28. As it became clear Billingsley wouldn’t return, Capuano’s fade became a real problem, as we noted on September 6:

Unfortunately, in the same way that Billingsley came back from a tough first half as we’d expected, Capuano is in the midst of a second-half slide. Capuano’s a notorious first-half pitcher (3.70 ERA vs 4.96 career) and it’s happening again this year, with a line of “.669 OPS against and  2.91 ERA in 18 starts before the break” turning into “.731 OPS against and  4.91 ERA in ten starts since,” a very worrisome trend.

It didn’t get better. Over his final eight starts of the season, spanning 40.2 innings, Capuano struck out just 19, an awful rate. He suffered a final indignity in the infamous Game #161 when he injured himself a few days before the game with a donut in the on-deck circle – yes, that’s a real thing that happened and could manage to go only three ineffective innings, allowing two dingers, against the Giants in the biggest game of the season.

What had started off as such a wonderful season quickly turned mediocre, as you’ll note by the 3.72 ERA & 3.95 FIP – a mark not all that different from the performance that earned him a 4.55 ERA with the Mets in 2011. That’s not to say we should think poorly of Capuano’s effort, given that he was signed to be a back-end starter and almost no one thought he’d actually stay healthy all season. While I’m fine with having him back as the #5 starter next year, by no means should his nice first half stand in the way of available pitching upgrades in any way whatsoever.

******

Next up! Hey, we actually didn’t hate Aaron Harang!

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