Another Possible Rotation Option
Jason Churchill and I heard the same rumor today, linking the M’s to Chris Capuano as a potential option for the back-end starter need that the team has. While I’ve been pretty vocal about Jeff Francis being my preferred option, Capuano presents an interesting possibility as well. He won’t be going back to Milwaukee, as the Brewers have traded for both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum this month, leaving their rotation without a spot for Capuano in 2011. Doug Melvin said publicly today that the Brewers will move on without Capuano, as he wants to continue to be a starter and they could only offer him a bullpen role.
Why should the Mariners be interested? Well, there’s a few reasons, the most obvious being that he should be relatively cheap. He missed all of 2008 and 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and only managed to throw 66 big league innings last year after starting the year in the minors and joining the Brewers initially as a reliever in June. He finished the year as a member of their rotation and did pretty well in that role, but he hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2007, and teams aren’t going to be offering up big money for a guy with his health questions. Given the team’s limited budget, the M’s are somewhat limited in what kinds of players they can make offers on, and Capuano should fit into the budget.
Beyond that, though, he’s a guy that this front office has some history with, having spent the last seven years in the Brewers organization after coming over in the Richie Sexson trade. Jack Z and the gang know Capuano and have seen him pitch well up close and personal, as they had a front row seat to the 2005-2007 stretch where he was a perfectly capable middle of the rotation starter. And, since they understand how Safeco’s park plays, they know that he could benefit dramatically from pitching half his games in Seattle.
As a left-handed starter, it’s no surprise that Capuano has given up more home runs to right-handed batters than to left-handed batters in his career; what is surprising is the proportion. He has faced 657 left-handed batters in the big leagues and allowed just 12 home runs, but has given up 98 bombs to the 2,699 right-handed batters he’s faced. To put that into a more conventional rate basis, his career HR/9 vs LHBs is 0.67, while its 1.43 vs RHBs. His home rate against righties is essentially double that of his mark against lefties. This is an unusually large split, but it appears that Capuano has a pitching style that leads directly to this result.
Left-handed hitters have put 53.8 percent of their career balls in play against Capuano on the ground; right-handed batters are at just 37.2 percent. While most pitchers induce more grounders versus same-handed hitters, it’s again the size of the split that is surprising. Against lefties, Capuano is doing something (mostly likely location based, since he doesn’t appear to throw a two-seam fastball) that gets them to hit the ball on the ground a majority of the time. He doesn’t do that same thing against right-handers, and it leads to a home run problem that is his biggest issue. With a career rate of 2.45 strikeouts to every walk, he’d be a pretty good starting pitcher if he could limit how often right-handed batters took him deep.
That is, of course, the one thing that Safeco Field prevents most – home runs by right-handed hitters. In Safeco, Capuano’s biggest weakness (and, in fact, his only major problem besides the health issues) would be minimalized, if not neutralized entirely. While pitchers like Jarrod Washburn and Jason Vargas have been able to take advantage of Safeco’s asymmetry, neither of them had anything close to the same tendencies that Capuano has displayed. He would stand to benefit more than either of those two from how the home park plays, and while it’s not quite as simple as dump-a-lefty-in-Safeco-and-watch-him-pitch-like-an-ace, you can bet that no other franchise could give him a chance to post better numbers in 2011 than the Mariners. As a guy coming off multiple years of injuries who will certainly be settling for a one year deal to try and re-establish some value, Seattle is the perfect landing spot for him.
He’s not quite as perfect for the Mariners, who could use some reliability in the back-end of a rotation that currently includes big question marks like Michael Pineda, David Pauley, and the always-around-but-never-actually-pitching Erik Bedard. Adding yet another guy who might be limited in how many innings he can offer might not be ideal, but the potential solid performance for even 100 to 150 innings at a low cost is not something the Mariners should ignore. A healthy Capuano pitching half his games in Safeco could end up being one of the best bargains of the winter, and while there’s a chance that they end up just paying for another broken lefty starter, the cost should be low enough to justify the risk.
I’d still prefer Francis, but Capuano is an interesting fallback plan. I wouldn’t even be opposed to bringing in both. This is the kind of pitcher that Safeco was made for, and the Mariners should be taking full advantage of how their park plays. Buying low on these types of guys is exactly how the team can benefit from a stadium that is, at times, a detriment to roster construction. If we’re going to be harmed by Safeco’s annoying ability to destroy right-handed pull hitters, we should also benefit from it’s abilities to make mediocre left-handed pitchers look amazing.