Another Possible Rotation Option

Dave · December 27, 2010 at 6:31 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.

Comments

33 Responses to “Another Possible Rotation Option”

  1. tmac9311 on December 27th, 2010 6:44 pm

    So for the sake of argument if everyone is healthy (and Capuano is signed) is Pineda in the rotation? Would we go Felix-Vargas-Bedard-Fister-Capuano, or would someone fall out to keep Pineda in? Is the point of signing guys like Erik and Chris to lighten the load for the younger guys as neither veteran will likely last more than 8-12 games?

  2. Dave on December 27th, 2010 6:55 pm

    Don’t assume Bedard pitches an inning next year. At this point, anything he gives you is a bonus. You don’t count on him at all.

    Right now, the rotation is probably Felix-Vargas-Fister-Pineda-?, with Pauley/French as the leading candidates for the last spot at the moment. Capuano would usurp those two, and probably push Pineda into competition for the #5 spot, which is a good thing. You don’t want to go into spring training depending on him to make the club. He should have an opportunity to do so if he throws the ball well, but they need to have options if he shows he needs more time in Triple-A. Capuano (or another big league guy) gives them that option.

  3. DRFelix on December 27th, 2010 7:57 pm

    Considering Pineda’s innings will be limited greatly “if” he lands a rotation spot sometime in 2010, I concur that I would LOVE to see BOTH Capuano and Francis added this next month.

    Felix-Francis-Pineda-Capuano-Vargas

    That’s 3 LHPs in our rotation that will adjust to the needs of Safeco Field. That also pushes Fister out of the rotation, where I personally don’t want to see him.

  4. Greeff on December 28th, 2010 12:38 am

    I like it! Liked Capuano when he came up as a prospect.

    Seems like a good fit.

    any idea what Capuano AND Francis would cost to sign?

  5. jordan on December 28th, 2010 1:14 am

    I like the idea of signing both.. neither are too special, but I really think Pineda needs more time..

  6. maqman on December 28th, 2010 2:03 am

    I’d rather see any free agent dollars spent on a bat rather than an arm. However, if Z feels the need to re-arm then Capuano and Francis look like good value for money possibilities.

  7. Greeff on December 28th, 2010 6:55 am

    I’d rather see any free agent dollars spent on a bat rather than an arm.

    I think everybody would rather have a bat. But i guess the only position still open for a bat is LF (and maybe 3B). and i would like to see Saunders get a chance to prove himself.

    And i would feel much better with Capuano/Francis in the rotation then Pauley or French.

    I know springtraining stats don’t mean much but i sure hope Halman puts things together and can become that slugger we are looking for.

  8. Nate on December 28th, 2010 8:10 am

    I like the “dump-a-lefty-in-Safeco-and-watch-him-pitch-like-an-ace” plan.
    But you have to take it one step further, because once he pitches like an ace, you can then trade him for some LHS (Left handed sock!)

  9. BobbyAyalaFan4Life on December 28th, 2010 8:49 am

    I’d still prefer Francis, but Capuano is an interesting fallback plan. I wouldn’t even be opposed to bringing in both.

    I was wondering about Capuano’s availability following the Brewers’ bolstering. I would like this as well, as he’s had flashes of successfully bouncing back from surgery. Now, I hadn’t considered it, but I really like your “sign both” comment Dave. How realistic is that possibility, both from a money standpoint and a general standpoint? Also, where would Pineda fit in should we sign both?
    I’d see it as something like this:
    Felix-Vargas-Fister-Francis/Capuano/Bedard for the final two (with smart money on Francis and Capuano if we signed both, at least initially). With Pineda having very little, if anything left to prove in AAA, do you think this would actually be a hindrance in his development? Would it be more beneficial from a development standpoint to let pineda lock the No. 5 spot and let those three scramble for No. 4? Ideally, I’d love to see pineda pitch himself into this kind of quandary in spring training. It’d be great to have that depth.

  10. gwangung on December 28th, 2010 9:15 am

    I’d rather see any free agent dollars spent on a bat rather than an arm.

    You still need to field a rotation and, IMAO, the internal pitching prospect are as dismal as the everyday players.

    Ideally, I’d love to see pineda pitch himself into this kind of quandary in spring training. It’d be great to have that depth.

    The one thing I recall from Bavasi that made sense is that you need six or seven potential candidates for the rotation, because injury is an ever present concern.

  11. djw on December 28th, 2010 12:14 pm

    That also pushes Fister out of the rotation, where I personally don’t want to see him.

    Why? He was a 3 WAR player in 2010; he can regress quite a bit and still be a useful piece of the rotation. His skill set works well here.

  12. Miles on December 28th, 2010 1:34 pm

    The more the merrier as far as starters. Pineda shouldn’t go more than 175 innings this year. If you look at Capuano, he pitched 88.1 innings in 2004, then 219, 221, 150 and misses a season from arm troubles I would guess.

    The M’s need to keep Vargus at 200 innings or less and Fister at about 180. Fister melted down in the second half I think because of arm fatigue, but what do I know. Hopefully his arm is stronger this year and isn’t already failing.

    This guy would be an excellent signing for the M’s.

  13. hoser on December 28th, 2010 3:52 pm

    Warning: No real baseball information in this post.

    I too like the idea of “dump-a-lefty-in-Safeco-and-watch-him-pitch-like-an-ace”. Actually, I realize that I would like anything that ended with “…-and-watch-him-pitch-like-an-ace”. “Draft-a-durable-player,-sign-him-to-a-cheap-long-term-contract” has a certain ring to it as a prefix also.

    Of course, that’s also why we haven’t found any working prefixes for “…and-watch-him-hit-like-a-stud” except half a season of Russell Branyan.

  14. MrZDevotee on December 28th, 2010 4:07 pm

    Hoser-
    And once you edit your reference down to “half a season” the “durable” reference flies out the window too.

    I’d love to have 7 starters vying for position, ’cause if they all show something, there’s always SOMEBODY out there willing to pay too much for a formerly good starter… (Mirror reflecting back on M’s past decade)

    If Bedard can put together a nice spring training we could bounce him out of here for a decent (not great) 3B or LF prospect hopefully, before he gets hurt again… (Which might be best case scenario for Bedard AND the M’s– and perhaps even what they both, mutually, hope to happen… He either retires, or is able to move on somewhere else and be a trade piece for us).

    All this is assuming that we still have 5 viable starters, and hopefully six (always good to have depth). So a best case scenario certainly, but not a bad risk/reward situation to be in for Spring Training.

    Actually:
    Felix-Francis-Vargas-Capuano-Pineda… That’s not awful, if we can score “league average” runs this year.

  15. hoser on December 28th, 2010 4:28 pm

    The connection I was “trying” to make was that the flip side of the lefty pitching improvement is righty hitting degradation.
    As a sometime Mets follower, I am aware that Shea was also a place where many hitters’ bats started to whimper. I only remember Dave Kingman having the distance to ignore the Shea effects. Otherwise, when I think of Mets, I think of pitchers (OK, Piazza was a hitter too).
    We get cheap and easy lefty pitching goodness because righty hitters take it on the chin.

  16. greentunic on December 28th, 2010 4:36 pm

    Time to embellish!

    Felix: Ace with capital A

    Pineda: AAA Ace and potential “ace” someday

    Bedard: Used to be Ace and is almost always when healthy

    Capuano: Ace in MLB 2K9 and becomes such with the park

    Francis: Pussballs give grounders to gold-glove type defense: Ryan, Wilson, and Figgins and Safeco helps him become an “ace”

    Odd of us having five aces this year! As high as 0.0048%!!! But I still want to do it!

  17. Chris_From_Bothell on December 28th, 2010 4:37 pm

    Meh, whatever. As long as there’s no long-term contracts on the horizon.

    They could’ve gotten Grienke and it still wouldn’t have improved things, when the middle of the lineup is going to be some combination of Cust / Smoak / Bradley / Gutierrez, with perhaps even Olivo batting as high as 5th. Ugh.

    The offense is not going to be 2010 horrible, but it’s still going to be weak enough to negate whatever benefits are reaped from cheap back-end starters, decent defense, etc.

    The only improvements thus far this offseason have been addition by subtraction: no Griffey, no Lopez, no Johnson, and so on.

  18. eponymous coward on December 28th, 2010 5:41 pm

    The offense is not going to be 2010 horrible, but it’s still going to be weak enough to negate whatever benefits are reaped from cheap back-end starters, decent defense, etc.

    Yeah, it’s too bad that the Giants couldn’t parlay good pitching and defense and a poor offense into a-oh, wait a minute…

    OK, in all fairness, the 2011 M’s are more like the typical late 00′s A’s team (not good, not likely to contend, but not terrible, somewhere in the 75 win true talent region with error bars), but it’s just dumb to think the M’s couldn’t improve on MANY aspects of their team from 2010, and if the market offers you a chance at a decent starting pitcher, take it.

  19. Chris_From_Bothell on December 28th, 2010 6:22 pm

    Yeah, it’s too bad that the Giants couldn’t parlay good pitching and defense and a poor offense into a-oh, wait a minute…

    You’re telling me Cust, Smoak, Bradley, Gutierrez and Olivo are on par with the middle-of-the-order hitters for the 2010 Giants?

    but it’s just dumb to think the M’s couldn’t improve on MANY aspects of their team from 2010

    …such as, say, their offense…

    and if the market offers you a chance at a decent starting pitcher, take it.

    Might as well, since the Ms were unable or unwilling to go after the significant bats available.

    Which brings me back to my original reaction: Meh, whatever. As long as there’s no long-term contracts on the horizon.

  20. Snake Hippo on December 28th, 2010 6:32 pm

    You’re telling me Cust, Smoak, Bradley, Gutierrez and Olivo are on par with the middle-of-the-order hitters for the 2010 Giants?

    Here is the Giants 2010 opening day lineup:

    Aaron Rowand CF
    Edgar Renteria SS
    Pablo Sandoval 3B
    Aubrey Huff 1B
    Mark DeRosa LF
    Bengie Molina C
    John Bowker RF
    Juan Uribe 2B
    Tim Lincecum P

    Don’t forget that Huff was coming off of a below replacement level season.

  21. gwangung on December 28th, 2010 6:36 pm

    Might as well, since the Ms were unable or unwilling to go after the significant bats available.

    Run differential, not JUST offense or defense.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  22. Dave on December 28th, 2010 6:46 pm

    You’re entering Michael Vick levels of animal abuse with your dead horse whipping, Chris. Pick a new topic to complain about in every thread.

  23. eponymous coward on December 28th, 2010 8:15 pm

    …such as, say, their offense…

    Did you expect them to trade RoJo straight up for Troy Tulowitzki? Pretend they were the Yankees and sign half a billion in free agent contracts? Hey, how did splurging for Sexson and Beltre work out when the Mariners cratered in 2004? Did I miss the threepeat championships we got from those signings?

    Cust is fine as a DH signing. He's not really demonstrably worse than someone like Thome or Matsui (at this point in their respective careers). Is your problem that they should be hitting the eject button on Smoak after half a season in MLB? That they can't pull a power-hitting middle infielder out of their ass (because, you know, EVERYONE has a .800 OPS shortstop)? That they aren’t going to give up on Death to Flying Things when he’s one year removed from hitting .283/.339 /.425 and being a 6 WAR player?

  24. Chris_From_Bothell on December 28th, 2010 8:49 pm

    He’s not really demonstrably worse than someone like Thome or Matsui

    Matsui, perhaps. Thome, not so much even if you go back over the last 4 years. Cust/Thome/Matsui wOBA And Vlad, Damon, even Branyan are still out there and still better choices, IMO.

    Run differential, not JUST offense or defense. Why is this so hard to understand?

    And Cust and Olivo helped with the run differential… how? “We suck less” isn’t a great thing to strive for, here.

    Has the projected 2011 defense been improved so much more than 2010 that it will outweigh the projected 2011 offense, and make the run differential that much better?

    Dave’s reasoning on Capuano or Francis as good cheap back-end rotation guys who could do well here is sound, but there’s nothing really game-changing about them here. Tinkering with the pitching or being ok with a fellow for his defense or low cost, after an historically bad offense and 2 100-loss seasons in 3 years, is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    You’re entering Michael Vick levels of animal abuse with your dead horse whipping, Chris. Pick a new topic to complain about in every thread.

    Getting excited or interested in cheap castoffs and blue light specials is akin to being ok with socks @ Christmas. But yes, you’re trying to focus on the positive, or at least on a front office making do with what they have, and accepting the budget and roster to be what it is and that’s that.

    With that in mind, it is orthagonal to be dragging the anemic offense – or if you prefer, the poor run differential due to lack of quality players throughout the roster – into a discussion of bargain basement pitching.

  25. gwangung on December 28th, 2010 9:54 pm

    And Cust and Olivo helped with the run differential… how

    If you can’t figure that out, you can’t add or subtract. It’s a silly comment to make when you’re complaining about an anemic offense.

    Basically, you’re saying you don’t believe at all in quantitative analysis on a basic level in baseball. And you most certainly are not paying attention to run differential.

  26. eponymous coward on December 28th, 2010 9:58 pm

    Thome, not so much even if you go back over the last 4 years.

    Thome’s 41 years old, and these are his PAs the past 3 years: 602, 434, 340. Which is why Cust beat him by half a win of value last year.

    And Vlad, Damon, even Branyan are still out there and still better choices, IMO.

    Cust’s WAR, 2009-2010: 3.4
    Vlad’s WAR, 2009-2010: 3.4

    Yes, this overstates Cust’s case (Vlad’s clearly the better player). But keep in mind that Cust is the correct handedness for the park, and was willing to come on a one-year deal, whereas convincing Vlad to come to a 100-loss team is likely going to take many, many guaranteed dollars.

    And let’s say we can convince Damon to take another pay cut to 5 million to come to a crappy team… that STILL makes him twice as expensive as Cust, but not twice as good, unless you’re playing him in the OF (a significant amount of his value before 2010 came from him being a league-average OF- about half a win). So now we’re going to hit the eject button on Saunders after half a MLB season?

    Cust is fine as a one year, 2.5 million dollar player, and is just as fine as Branyan is (except without a history of back problems). No, he’s not as sexy as signing some late 30′s name guy on the downside of his career to be your DH, but realistically, it is very, very hard to be better than a +2 win player at DH, and the difference in contracts between a guy like Cust and a guy like Vlad is better spent elsewhere on a roster that lost 100 games.

    If your argument is that the Mariners should be opening up the checkbook to improve the offense/team overall, the guy they probably should be going for is Adrian Beltre, not spending an extra 3-5 million on a marginally better DH- Beltre is stil young enough at 32 that he should be a contributor for a while, and he wouldn’t roadblock a kid at any position (since you can play Figgins at 2B and then pray his bat comes alive enough that you can trade him once it’s time to play Ackley, or worst case turn Figgins into Mark McLemore v. 2.0). The M’s need to find out if the Smoak/Ackley/Saunders/Pineda/Guti axis of youth is going to take a step forward in 2011, or where they need to cut bait, so the signings should be made with that in mind: don’t block a kid. However, as Dave has pointed out on Capuano, Safeco turns LHP into Supermen and makes RHB bats into Clark Kent after a dinner of Kryptonite…

  27. Jordan on December 29th, 2010 8:41 am

    Eponymous thank you for covering the “better” DH options; most of us shared the same sentiments.

    turn Figgins into Mark McLemore v. 2.0

    Great idea but unfortunately that won’t happen, because we made it clear to Figgins when we signed him that he would only play one position per year.

    axis of youth is going to take a step forward

    and as soon as the Seattle fanbase gets behind this concept we will not have to continue beating the anemic offense dead horse or read more ridiculous comments. Yes, Seattle will likely not be sexy this year. But, this does not mean we can’t continue to be fans and look toward 2012 when money comes off the books and we know what we have in our youth.

  28. KaminaAyato on December 29th, 2010 10:09 am
    axis of youth is going to take a step forward

    and as soon as the Seattle fanbase gets behind this concept we will not have to continue beating the anemic offense dead horse or read more ridiculous comments.

    Thank you! People forget that the three legs to build a successful franchise are:

    - Draft
    - Trade
    - FA Signings

    And that because you cannot sign a full team via FA (unless your team is the evil empire – choose one), you have to depend on the other two.

    Draft picks take at least 2 years to get to the majors (unless your name is Lincecum, Strasburg) and you have to have quality minor players to trade (unless you are trading to a gullible GM), so having a great farm system is crucial to building a franchise. It isn’t the be all end all, but it certainly is important.

  29. MangoLiger on December 29th, 2010 11:09 am

    .

  30. MangoLiger on December 29th, 2010 11:17 am

    Sorry about the previous blank post, I had my numbers screwed up…

    I went through the hittracker data for Capuano in 2006, 2007, and 2010. Over 437.1 innings over those years, Capuano gave up 58 HRs to all batters. On 12 of those HRs you can make the case that they might have been suppressed in Safeco (based on hr distance, dimensions of Safeco, and giving an extra 10 feet for atmospheric effects).

    If you assume 50% of those 12 HR actually get suppressed (because 50% of the games are at home), you end up with 1.07 HR/9 predicted vs 1.19 HR/9 actual. To put another way: 6 HR over 437.1 IP makes a difference of about 0.18 in FIP.

    If you assume he pitches 100 innings in 2011, that translates to an extra 0.2 of a win by pitching half his games at Safeco. An extra 0.2 of a win… AWESOME.

    I guess my point is that most of his value comes from being a good pitcher, and the Safeco-RHB-HR-Suppression thing is only a very marginal reason to sign him. That said, he’s a good pitcher when healthy, and as long as he’s cheap enough it’s a decent risk/reward move.

  31. eponymous coward on December 29th, 2010 11:29 am

    Great idea but unfortunately that won’t happen, because we made it clear to Figgins when we signed him that he would only play one position per year.

    I’m not aware that signing a FA contract gives you Survivor-style immunity to challenges when a better player (Ackley, a hypothetical Beltre) comes along. Good teams generally HAVE a guy on the bench who might start on another team, and, if the manager is halfway competent, you can give a guy like this enough playing time that they don’t FEEL like they are rusting on the bench (Lou Piniella, for all his faults, was very good at juggling the lineups to give a “bench” player or two 100 games- enough so they were quasi-regulars.)

  32. jordan on December 29th, 2010 12:40 pm

    The offense is actually going to be improved…

    Olivo > Rob
    Anyone(Brenden Ryan) > Lopez
    Jack Cust > Griffey
    2011 Saunders > 2010 Saunders
    2011 Smoak > 2010 Smoak

  33. Slurve on December 29th, 2010 1:04 pm

    2011 Smoak > 2010 Smoak

    And Casey Kotchman for that matter.

    Seriously the M’s had hilariously bad offense last year due to career lows by Figgins, Bradley, Kotchman, Lopez and horrible performances by the catching/DH duos and a lackluster performance in LF by Bradley/Saunders. It would be extremely hard to be as bad as last year. Also it isn’t just a matter of going out and buying a bat. It’s about improving the team in any way possible for a low price; ergo signing someone like Chris Capuano for a small amount of money(in baseball terms) could potentially bring great improvement in the back end of the rotation which features the likes of French/Pauley.

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