Chris Capuano: Another Bronx Bombers Bargain?

I covered Brandon McCarthy in a Waiver Wire post a couple of weeks ago (for the second time this season, the second time) because I was more excited about his prospects to see some positive regression now that he had joined the New York Yankees. Multiple news outlets in the Big Apple reported reasons that the organization targeted the right-hander. Brian Cashman and/or his advisers essentially believed that, with a couple of tweaks, he would deliver results more in line with his peripherals than he had for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Drew Fairservice, a recent addition to the FanGraphs team, wondered whether McCarthy’s results were more the product of Pinstriped Intervention or the laws of mean. It’s fair to ponder, and Drew gives the club credit. Eno and I (mostly Eno) mentioned in the podcast some possible reasons, such as the parity of a couple of his pitches, for McCarthy’s continually disappointing results in the desert in light of his indicators. Components such as xFIP and SIERA can serve an array of purposes, but they’re not inherently predictive.

Some pitchers consistently out- or underperform compared to their measurements in those categories. Improvement of their processes can be a direct means to unlock better results for those who have underperformed for a while according to xFIP and SIERA. McCarthy was an underachiever for his entire sentence – err, stretch – with the Snakes. Of course, he’s cited some physical and mental things that worked against him in 2013, when he actually threw his cutter quite often. He’s thrown harder this year. There are many variables both on and off the diamond that can affect what the baseball does once it leaves a hurler’s hand.

Anyway, before I move further from my point. … Another of the Yankees’ acquisitions, Chris Capuano, has made it a habit for much of his career, and particular in the last few seasons, to deliver results that aren’t quite on par with his peripheral marks. His problems with the home run, and hard-hit balls in general, have done him in, often. But since he’s moved to the Bronx, he’s enjoyed some better outcomes. Those prompted me to wonder if the club saw something in him the way they did with McCarthy, as Drew suggested they might have for a number of their recent acquisitions.

I’m not going to suggest that the Yanks have figured out how to fix years of a-bit-better-than-replacement-level-or-worse Capuano. But they could have thought that better results than what he’d produced as a member of the Boston Red Sox’s bullpen were possible, even as a member of their own rotation, with some tweaks to the left-hander’s process. Otherwise, why take the shot? Just because left field at Yankee Stadium doesn’t create the same kind of egregious park factor that the short porch in right does doesn’t mean that it’s not a negative for pitchers who give up fly balls, as Capuano typically has.

Capuano’s pitch mix has sort of been constant throughout his career – with a couple of notable exceptions. In the past few years, he’s ditched the four-seamer as his primary fastball in favor of a sinker. He’s also, to a lesser extent, increased his usage of the slider. That pitch has been fairly good at netting grounders but below-average for swinging strikes. The sinking fastball, incidentally, has been OK – hard to say it’s been any better or worse, in terms of outcomes, than his four-seam fastball, and it’s not a great pitch for him.

The changeup, however, has been a staple of his repertoire. Rightfully so: It’s regularly been a plus pitch for him, his best selection by far. It’s generated 48.8% ground balls and 20.1% swinging strikes in his career. That’s one above-average pitch right there. But his usage of it has slowly dwindled.

Capuano Usage 2014 by Month

The Yankees appear to have asked Capuano to fire the change piece more often; his recent mix of the sinker and changeup has been almost 50-50. He’s also tossed his slider more often; his breaking balls have comprised a quarter or more of his offerings. The southpaw has gradually become less dependent on his fastball through the years, but compared to past seasons, this kind of blend appears to be new, perhaps even radically so.

To be precise, Capuano has thrown the sinker just 38.1% of the time in his 25 frames with the Yanks; the changeup, 33.3%. He’s mostly increased the frequency of the changeup against opposite-handed batters, naturally, because that’s typically whom the pitch is designed to neutralize. He’s thrown his slider 21.7% of the time since he joined the Yankees, too, although not curveballs any more often.

Capuano’s sinker and changeup have similar horizontal and vertical movements, particularly the former. They also have a 10 mph difference in average velocities. Perhaps the Yankees couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if he’d become more unpredictable and more often throw the offering that has consistently achieved better results.

In Capuano’s four starts with the Yankees, his changeup has generated 63.3% ground balls, and his slider, 55.6%. The change piece has also coaxed 26.4% swinging strikes in that time. Those rates are significantly different from those of his prior stints, whether from earlier this season or in recent campaigns. The component stats have moved downward, in kind, for the stretch of stanzas in which he’s been a Bomber.

Of course, besides that Capuano is doing something different, there are other possible explanations for those increases and decreases. OK, opponents? The Baltimore Orioles (good) and Boston Red Sox (bad) touched up the lefty for four runs. The Detroit Tigers aren’t slouches, but he dodged major damage by the somewhat depleted Toronto Blue Jays. And the previous rates, to which I compared these most recent ones, came from lengthier periods, which allowed for some stabilization. That – duh – doesn’t allow me to draw any conclusions about the slice of PITCHf/x data that piqued my interest.

The point, however, is that Capuano is doing something different, and the different began after he joined the Yankees. So far, it has achieved different – better – results, and components, for him, too. It’s interesting to ponder what may be going on with him, especially in light of what the Yanks are doing with McCarthy. And perhaps the Pinstripes analytics team deserves a tad more credit for its ability to find some hidden value.

I don’t think that Capuano has become an automatic addition in fantasy baseball leagues, shockingly. But, even with the small-sample caveats, I’d be more confident in ownership or pursuit of him in AL-only leagues because of the things I see. I might be willing to stream him in deep mixed leagues (or a daily league if I actually played those). Cappy was one of Collette’s sneaky two-turn selections in this past Sunday’s podcast, and I endorsed the pick. So far, so good – for the Yanks, and for Capuano’s risk-tolerant fantasy owners.

Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.

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9 years ago

Capuano’s velocity has increased in each of the last 7 seasons. He’s throwing a full 3mph harder than in 2005.