2011 Season in Review: Chris Capuano

The New York Mets went 77-85 in 2011. As suggested by the sub-par record, there were a fair share of ups and downs throughout the season. “2011 Season in Review,” which will be an ongoing series, will analyze every single Mets player that picked up a ball or glove in 2011, for better or worse. This particular “2011 Season in Review” will take a look at starting pitcher Chris Capuano.

After back-to-back good seasons in 2005 (18 Wins, 3.99 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 1.93 K/BB in 219 IP) and 2006 (11 Wins, 4.03 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 3.70 K/BB in 221.3 IP)–including an All-Star appearance in the latter of the two seasons–the then 27 year-old Chris Capuano seemed destined for success. However, the left-handed pitcher endured a mediocre 2007 (possibly due to injury), and fell prey to Tommy John surgery before the 2008 season. Capuano’s road to recovery was not as smooth as most other TJ survivors, as the pitcher did not return to the Major Leagues until June 3, 2010.

Considering his lack of pitching from 2008 to 2010, Capuano’s solid showing as a reliever/starter in 2010 was impressive. The lefty posted a combined 3.95 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 2.57 K/BB in 66 innings, but a superior 3.54 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 3.33 K/BB in 20.3 innings as a reliever. Progression aside, Capuano had only logged 66 innings from 2008 to 2010–hardly enough to warrant consideration for a guaranteed rotation gig.

The Brewers let their long-time pitcher test free agent waters, and inked a one-year, $1.5 million with the New York Mets. The Mets handed the 32 year-old a rotation spot, and hoped for the best. Luckily for Sandy Alderson, Capuano was even better than he hoped.

Capuano endured a rough first month including two relief stints (6.04 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 3.16 K/BB), but settled down after that. The lefty hurled back-to-back good months in May (3.99 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.80 K/BB) and June (3.25 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.75 K/BB), and a dominant August (4.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 4.75 K/BB). But, his second half was marred by a very hittable July (5.23 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 1.79 K/BB) and September (5.40 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB). Overall, the scrap heap signee owned a respectable 4.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 3.17 K/BB in 186 innings–his highest total since 2006. Also, his 2.6 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9 were his best rates since 2006 and 2004, respectively.

But even though Capuano sported a 3.60 SIERA and 3.67 xFIP–almost a full point lower than his 4.55 ERA–the disparity cannot simply be labeled as “bad luck.” For starters, the lefty’s BABIP was only a slightly elevated .311 (career .300 BABIP). Capuano also has long suffered from gopheritis (career 1.28 HR/9 and 11.8% HR/FB), and 2011 was no different (1.31 HR/9 and 12% HR/FB). And while the pitcher exhibited four seemingly successful pitches on account of his high strikeout total (8.13 K/9), not one of them computed to a positive RAA. In fact, his fastball, slider, cutter, and change-up were worth -4.1, -4.8, -1.1, and -2.5 RAA, respectively.

One also has to consider the pitcher’s home versus away splits. Capuano pitched rather brilliantly at home, owning a 3.82 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 3.84 K/BB in 101.3 innings. But when he was living out of a suitcase, the southpaw hurled a Mr. Hyde-esq 5.42 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, and 2.57 K/BB in 84.6 innings on the road. With such different splits, it’s pretty obvious Capuano’s success in 2011 had much to do with Citi Field’s pitcher-friendly dimensions.

There is no doubt that Chris Capuano was a solid starting pitcher for the Mets in 2011–and more than earned his pip-squeak $1.5 million salary (was worth 1.6 fWAR or $7 million according to Fan Graphs)–but the decision to retain his services for the 2012 is a little up in the air. Aside from supposedly wanting a two-year deal, there is little statistical proof to suggest that Capuano will improve from his 2011-self, and by only averaging 5.9 innings per start–not to mention his injury history–he isn’t exactly the most durable pitcher either. Assuming the Mets are unable to find a superior replacement from outside or within, re-signing Capuano for just a modest salary increase shouldn’t incite a fan-base riot.

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