Explaining the Chris Capuano Bargain

Everybody’s interested in free-agent bargains. Regular free-agent prices always seem increasingly insane, so everybody’s interested in free-agent bargains. People ask about remaining bargains in seemingly every FanGraphs chat I either run or read, and my automatic answer has long been Chris Capuano. I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s Capuano, and then it’s on to the next question. I don’t remember when it started this way. I don’t remember what my initial explanation was. It seems about time to actually write a post about this, and as it happens, this post can even be timely.

Buster Olney wrote this morning about how free-agent prices are coming down with spring training nearly upon us. Teams have even exploited this as a strategy, figuring that, in time, players will get more desperate than the teams will. Olney also composed a few tweets, two of which are relevant to this particular Capuano-centric discussion. Now I’ll embed them, as you do.

 

And:

 

Now, it doesn’t matter so much what Arroyo wants. Players always want a lot. Ervin Santana, at one point, wanted $100 million. Nelson Cruz, at one point, wanted $75 million. Players will sign for the best they can get, since it’s better than not signing, and no one has actually yet given in to Arroyo’s demands. But it is possible to imagine his getting three years. It’s definitely possible to see him getting two, maybe with an option, and Capuano’s now just looking for a home for six or seven months. Capuano, as it happens, is younger by a year and a half.

As a starting point, in October the Dodgers declined Capuano’s $8 million option, paying a $1 million buyout. In other words, the Dodgers didn’t value a year of Chris Capuano at $7 million or more. That’s just the Dodgers, and that’s not the whole market, but obviously, Capuano’s phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook to which phones haven’t been attached for 20 years. $7 million is, basically, the price of a win over replacement. At least, that’s the price for free agents.

I’m going to compare Capuano and Arroyo, not because the choice is actually one or the other, but just because it seems like it could be instructive. I’ll use our usual three-year windows, and I’ll remove Capuano’s limited relief appearances. The last three years, Capuano has started 84 games, and Arroyo has started 96. Arroyo’s posted the superior ERA, and RA9. Capuano’s posted the superior FIP and xFIP. As a result, Arroyo has been more than three wins more valuable, by RA9-WAR. However, Capuano has been three wins more valuable by WAR, in more than 100 fewer innings. Two different stats paint completely different pictures.

And we can’t trust either one of them 100%. Compromise, and the pitchers are more or less even. Capuano’s got a huge edge in strikeouts. Arroyo’s got an edge in hit prevention. Arroyo’s pitched in a smaller park; Capuano’s pitched to worse catchers. This being FanGraphs, I prefer to more heavily weight the peripherals. I’m also willing to grant that Arroyo might be one of those guys able to beat his FIP, but the FIP gap between Arroyo and Capuano has been not small.

What Arroyo really has going for him is durability. He’s reached or exceeded 200 innings in eight of the last nine seasons. In the one exception, he threw 199. He’s simply not a guy who misses starts, and I’m sure that’s one of his primary selling points. But then, with pitchers, durability is only so predictive. Capuano doesn’t have the durable label, because he’s actually undergone Tommy John surgery twice. He was injured three times just last season. But all the injuries were minor, and between 2011-2012, Capuano started 64 times. He’s been durable recently, and it’s not like his stuff has declined. Last year he had the highest average velocity of his career.

This past season, Capuano posted an average adjusted FIP, and an average adjusted xFIP, just like Scott Feldman. The last three years, he’s posted a slightly below-average adjusted FIP, but an average adjusted xFIP. He has a better three-year FIP/xFIP profile than Ervin Santana. His three-year strikeout rate is exactly the same as R.A. Dickey‘s.

Most certainly, there are things about Capuano not to like. His elbow has been cut open twice, and he’s 35 years old. He has allowed more runs than you’d expect from his other statistics, and maybe that means something. He’s a lefty who’s been far better against lefties, meaning in some sense he’s been a reliever in a stretched-out role. The last three years against Capuano, lefties have hit 57% grounders, while righties have hit 39% grounders. That difference of 18% is the sixth-biggest in baseball over that span, and righties have torched Capuano for more dingers. He’s got a big platoon split, from the wrong side.

There’s also the matter of Capuano’s strikeouts never matching Capuano’s swings and misses. There’s a very strong correlation between strikeout rate and contact rate, allowing one to generate an expected strikeout rate. Capuano routinely posts better-than-average contact rates, but his strikeout rates have been somewhat unremarkable. Historically, pitchers who throw a lot of curves have been able to beat their expected strikeout rates, and pitchers who throw a lot of changeups have undershot their expected strikeout rates. Capuano leans heavily on his changeup, being a lefty who faces a lot of righties.

When you put everything together, Capuano definitely isn’t great, and he definitely isn’t the most durable starting pitcher in the world. He’s probably a little bit below the league average, in terms of true talent at this point in his career. But then you need to consider that not all five of a team’s starters are likely to be average or better than that. There’s value in what Capuano can do, and he’s worth some millions for a year, a year during which he could be worth one or two wins. On a WAR/200-innings basis, Steamer projects Capuano at 1.8. It projects Tim Hudson at 1.7. Bronson Arroyo at 1.6. Phil Hughes at 1.9. John Danks at 1.8. There’s a strong argument to be made that Capuano could be worth eight figures, and it looks like he’s going to have to settle for less than that. Which means he could be a free agent with surplus value.

Every starting rotation needs higher-quality pitchers, and every starting rotation needs guys who don’t suck. Capuano doesn’t suck, and he could help out toward the back end, for a very reasonable cost. Of course one shouldn’t get excited over the prospect of signing Chris Capuano for a year. But not every good move has to be exciting, and besides, Bronson Arroyo’s unlikely to flip any lids.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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J6takish
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J6takish
2 years 5 months ago

I think the issue may be the “type” of WAR that these kind of guys offer. The old adage was to have a top heavy rotation and to sign a veteran innings eater to the back end to soak up innings and keep young arms healthy. This is a sound strategy for the regular season, but these are the kinds of pitchers who tend to get bumped from post season rosters. Have teams started to divert their resources away from low upside innings eaters into elite bullpen arms and platoonable bench pieces/defense oriented bench players because these players are more likely to add value in games that “count”?

Guest
Guest
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

This is true. Especially for the talented teams. Which is why we see no interest from the top-tier teams. The Astros rotation could sure use the WAR and innings for next year.

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 4 months ago

Astros would make sense, especially since if he ends up being healthy and decent he’d likely be flipped at the trade deadline to a contendor. Could also see him making sense for the Rangers who need some innings at the back of the rotation for the first half of the season. With Holland and maybe Lewis returning later in the year, it’s not a big deal if he doesn’t make it through the whole season without getting injured.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
2 years 5 months ago

I agree that this is the issue. If a team is looking for reliable innings at the bottom of the rotation (and often they are), Arroyo is a good choice. I’d add, too, that the choice points to a difference in emphasis between fantasy baseball (focus on rates) and actual baseball (where counting stats count). Of course, nobody’s signed either of these guys so far.

Docmilo
Guest
Docmilo
2 years 5 months ago

What if Capuano has just plain run out of gas? Opponents hit .295/.330/.450 against him last year. Is that worth giving up a 40 man spot?

Dave Cameron
Admin
Member
2 years 5 months ago

And in the season where he “ran out of gas”, he posted the best K/BB ratio of his career and his lowest HR/9 since becoming a regular. Yeah, that makes sense.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 5 months ago

His recent numbers year-by-year look good compared to Bruce Chen, who just got a $4M+ deal.

And no, I don’t mean that as a slam. Chen has been a (slightly) above replacement level pitcher of late, and Capuano seems to be a notch better.

joe
Guest
joe
2 years 5 months ago

Wait you are throwing out two stats that support his lower FIP, but not saying that his zone% was lower and his strikeouts lower. The lower K/BB was driven by lower BB which could have just been a product of batters hitting more balls in the zone and getting hits from these. Was his BABIP distributed differently than the average. I don’t know where this data is, but I would guess that his GB and LD both had higher BABIP than average – also only 1.8% IFF. Something about that makes me think that this high BABIP might not be something to shrug off. I get why he could be a bargain, but I also get why many GMs would want to think they have someone in AAA that can fill a similar role.

Professor Ross Eforp
Member
Professor Ross Eforp
2 years 5 months ago

And in the season where Ubaldo succeeded by “feasting on bad offenses late”, he also posted the best K/BB ratio of his career.

I’m having difficulty as of late knowing when to simply accept the advanced metrics around here or when to say, “Yes, BUT…”

Guest
Guest
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

Yo- Docmilo asked 2 questions. And you were a total d*ck. I was reading an article yesterday on this site that you wrote in reference to Bruce Chen’s recent drop in HR allowed.

“Home run rate has a massive influence on a pitcher’s overall performance, but is also extremely volatile on a seasonal basis. The year to year correlation for home run rate is around half of what it is for things like walk rate and strikeout rate”

So, I dont really see why you think that number means anything for Capuano but not for Chen.

Capuano posted a low in zone% and f-strike% in 2013 while his o and z contact percentages rose. (The z barely) . His swinging strike percentage dropped 10% in 2013.

Capuano posted the lowest K% of his career at 17.1% and allowed the highest BABIP of his career at .334

It seems to me that he threw less strikes, resulting in career lows in swinging strike percentage and K%. He also allowed the highest BABIP of his career by a wide margin. Some of that increase might be due to luck, but it is also related to quality of contact allowed. His LD% for the last 2 years is also up over career norms.

Im not saying he isn’t a bargain to some teams, but honestly, this looks like a pitcher in decline.

Steve-O
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Steve-O
2 years 5 months ago

No need to get all lathered up. It’s pretty much a given that DC is f@ck stick.

Ducky
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Ducky
2 years 5 months ago

Dave C. is a successful saber, baseball writer dude, stat guy. Part of it is talent and part of it is internet bullying. He’s a weakling in the wring and he knows it. Most of us would pound him but don’t want to. It’s part of what drives him. Leave him be. His stat picking/cherry picking is part of who he is. Thank you Dave for your contribution. You have given many marginal humans ambition, confidence and desire. Your research will also go down in history as relevant.

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 5 months ago

Could not agree more. Cherry picking jerk who has fallen faster than stock prices during the crash. He’s complete garbage.

jim
Guest
jim
2 years 4 months ago

Wow, Internet Tough Guys out in force tonight

Mrdaikon
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Mrdaikon
2 years 4 months ago

Whoa Ducky, Matt. Seriously, please go back to the ESPN comment boards where you belong. Ducky: “He’s a weakling in the wring and he knows it. Most of us would pound him but don’t want to.” Do you even hear yourself? Are you still in middle school? (*ring btw). Reply with stats then you knuckle draggers, don’t get ad hominem unnecessarily. Pfff this site may be getting too popular!

A commenter
Guest
A commenter
2 years 4 months ago

SPITEFUL INVECTIVE!

RC
Guest
RC
2 years 4 months ago

Both of which are meaningless stats. (K/BB and HR/9).

Lets use some actual rate stats:

His K% (17.7) was the lowest he’s had in the majors since his rookie year. His BB rate is down too, which is clearly a good thing.

But, a guy who is striking out less people, walking less people, and getting hit a whole lot more is not a good sign.

His LD% is at 20+%, and while his GB% went up this year, it all came from his INFFB (down from 12% to 1%).

asdf
Guest
asdf
2 years 5 months ago

I think there could be another angle to look at this from: what do the teams know that we aren’t capturing via DIPS?

If we assume:
(a) Lots of teams need pitching this offseason
(b) Those teams probably have more information than us
(c) Those teams aren’t competing for Capuano’s services

Then the conclusion is either:
(a) Market inefficiency
(b) Those teams know something we don’t.

That market inefficiency can only exist as long as enough competing teams recognize that market inefficiency.

Or, teams know something more than we do about the risk of signing Capuano.

I’m going to vote medicals. I would bet that teams have better leading indicators than we do about pitcher injuries, and the risk margin around Capuano is large enough to push him into the bargain basement.

asdf
Guest
asdf
2 years 5 months ago

Just to clarify:
– In assumption (c) I mean: Teams are clearly not vying for his services (thus driving up his price). Meaning they don’t want him for reason ____.
– Once teams recognize the market inefficiency, it will no longer be a market inefficiency.

CleverName
Guest
CleverName
2 years 5 months ago

3 year stats for 3 players: Arroyo, Capuano, Bruce Chen
Starts
A:96
C:84
B:74

Innings Pitched
A:603
C:490
B:467.2

FIP-
A:122
C:105
B:108

ERA-
A:108
C:112
B:101

WAR
A:1.7
C:4.8
B:5.3

RA9-WAR
A:6.0
C:2.6
B:5.8

If Capuano’s stats warrant a giant article on “best potential free agent bargain”, Chen’s 1 year for $4.25m doesn’t look all that bad. That said, I’m not holding my breath for an article from Fangraphs that gives the Royals front office any credit.

Dave Cameron
Admin
Member
2 years 5 months ago
tz
Guest
tz
2 years 4 months ago

Quoting GilaMonster, from the above article:

I don’t really get this signing. Why not go out and sign a Chris Capuano type for a tad more money? Or sign a Josh Johnson for a bit more? Or even a Shaun Marcum?

Instead you sign a bum like Bruce Chen

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 4 months ago

(and next thing, wait for someone to read this and accuse Fangraphs of trying to play things both ways)

CleverName
Guest
CleverName
2 years 5 months ago

I must have missed the part in the article where the signing was praised in any form. As a Royals fan I’m the first to admit how crappy the front office has been, but the bias here is pretty obvious some days

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 5 months ago

The bias is definitely obvious…from commenters like you.

Matt
Guest
Matt
2 years 5 months ago

Not bias. DM is just a miserable GM who provides plenty of fodder to report or analyze.

That’s said, FG is in witch hunt mode but only because we readers eat it up. FG hates Moore. Tries to discredit him at every turn. You’re correct. Problem is, FG is correct in doing so.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
2 years 4 months ago

Yep. You missed it. Makes me wonder if you even read it. Now, the article doesn’t heap praise all over Dayton Moore (which must be what you wanted) but several times it discusses how much better Chen is than he used to be. It clearly implies in several places that he’s well worth the price paid to him.

It gets draining to read repeated comments from posters like you who seem to be personally offended when an author here doesn’t lavish praise all over your favored team or its GM. It’s reasonable to criticize teams and GMs. In fact, to a large degree, that’s this site’s job. But in the article you’re complaining about, there was no criticism. Indeed, your only complaint is that your GM didn’t get ENOUGH praise for the signing of a mediocre pitcher to a 1 year, $4.25 M contract.

It’s a decent signing but it’s hardly the fleecing of the century. Get over yourself.

jfree
Member
jfree
2 years 5 months ago

Maybe Capuano needs a new phone instead of waiting for his old one to ring off the hook.

walt526
Member
walt526
2 years 5 months ago

I’d put Jason Hammel in the conversation of potential FA bargains amongst the starting pitching still on the market. If Capuano’s health is a greater concern than we realize, then Hammel may actually be a better option. Or even if Capuano is healthy, if he signs for more than Hammel, then Hammel may actually be a better value.

Hammel has kind of flown under the radar because he best seasons were in Colorado and he had a rough 2013. But he’s a solid back of the rotation starter.

walt526
Member
walt526
2 years 5 months ago

And right after I posted this, just saw that Cubs signed Hammel to a one year, $6M deal. That has a chance to be an excellent value.

sportywiz
Member
sportywiz
2 years 4 months ago

Hammel could be a good deal,but he could be facing T.J. Surgery…

sportywiz
Member
sportywiz
2 years 4 months ago

On that note,I’m rooting for Scott Baker to make the Cubs roster as a NRI. He’s another young guy who can still make an impact,if he can keep his arm healthy.

nsacpi
Guest
nsacpi
2 years 5 months ago

The Braves were interested in Capuano before going with Gavin Floyd, who is coming back from elbow surgery and due back in May/June. So at least one team, and one that is pretty good at evaluating pitching, had an interest.

I think what we are seeing is a change in the supply of pitching due to medical advances and changes in usage that avoids abusing a pitcher’s arm. Most teams now are able to go into the season with 5 solid starters and a couple decent ones in AAA or in the pen acting as long men. The increase in the supply of pitchers just above replacement level is depressing their wages.

bookbook
Guest
bookbook
2 years 5 months ago

As a Braves fan you may believe this to be true, but as an M’s fan I don’t even grok your concept, man.

yuniform
Guest
yuniform
2 years 4 months ago

Just remember back to 2003, when the Mariners only used five starters. Moyer, Garcia, Franklin, Pineiro, Meche. http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/SEA/2003.shtml#team_pitching::9

gareth
Guest
gareth
2 years 4 months ago

And I just though Capuano was a Brazilian martial arts dance.

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 5 months ago

I thought it was a huge Brazilian rodent.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen
2 years 4 months ago
Yoko
Guest
Yoko
2 years 5 months ago

I thought Capuano was a mission in California famous for its cliff swallows?

GoodasGoldy
Guest
GoodasGoldy
2 years 5 months ago

I think a much bigger Capuano-type bargain would be Randy Wolf. He had his 2nd TJ 1.5 yrs ago. So Wolf might get that little post-TJ run up in velocity that often comes after 15-18 months. Because he missed all of 2013 he’s likely to be content with a minor league “make good contract” type. That’s about as cheap as it gets to secure a “innings eating, crafty lefty, veteran presence, like-another-manager-on-the-field” type. (did I miss any applicable cliches for the Wolfman?)

shthar
Guest
shthar
2 years 4 months ago

Teams probably can’t decide between Cappy and maholm…

sportywiz
Member
sportywiz
2 years 4 months ago

I applaud Capuano for continuing his career,but at some point he needs to just look for the light at the end of the tunnel..

Larry
Guest
Larry
2 years 4 months ago

Capuano has the good face and probably can sit with a FG writer for 15 minutes and have a convo about progressive baseball analysis – that’s why he’s worth looking in on as a bargain.

Seve
Guest
Seve
2 years 4 months ago

“Capuano’s pitched to worse catchers,” says the writer.

Tell me more. Over that time frame, hasn’t he pitched mostly to Dodger catcher AJ Ellis?

As one of the top defensive catchers in the league, Ellis hardly fits any reasonable definition of “worse.”

eb0065
Guest
eb0065
2 years 4 months ago

Ellis isn’t one of the top defensive catchers in the league.

Seve
Guest
Seve
2 years 4 months ago
owumd
Guest
owumd
2 years 4 months ago
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