Over the past two seasons, the biggest factor holding back the New York Mets has been injuries. Apparently undaunted by those injury concerns, the Mets signed a pair of pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery. While both Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz pitched in the majors last season, they were only able to accumulate 78 innings combined. The Mets realized the risks involved, however, signing Capuano for only $1.5 million, and Buccholz for $600,000. After another off-season of recovery, will Capuano and Buchholz return to form in 2011?
Coming off his second Tommy John surgery, the Milwaukee Brewers were cautious with Capuano last season, initially assigning him to the low minors. He quickly earned a promotion to AAA, and by June he had joined the Brewers bullpen. Although Capuano initially struggled with his velocity, he was able to regain his normal velocity as the season progressed.
Despite coming off the injury, Capuano was still able to post solid peripherals. He displayed excellent command, holding batters to just a 2.86 BB/9 rate. Curious to see how Capuano would fare in the rotation, the Brewers gave him seven starts down the stretch. While Capuano struggled in his first start, he allowed just eight runs over his next five starts (each lasting at least 5 innings).
Even though 2010 can be viewed as a successful season for Capuano, the Mets should still have some concerns about Capuano going forward. The Brewers really monitored Capuano’s pitch count, only allowing him to throw 100+ pitches once. In Capuano’s nine starts with the Brewers, his average pitches thrown per game was only 81. If Capuano intends on starting for the Mets, he’s going to have to prove that he can handle a more aggressive workload. The fact that Capuano was able to post solid peripherals in his first season back from Tommy John, however, indicates that he should make a positive impact for the Mets next season.
Buchholz’s impact in 2011 is a bit harder to project. Buchholz began his comeback trail in the minors as well, but struggled with his command. In 18.1 innings in AAA, Buchholz posted a 4.42 BB/9 rate. Those issues would continue to plague him once he reached the majors in late July. Although he only pitched 12 innings in the majors, Buchholz allowed six walks in those innings. Over his career, however, Buchholz has displayed great command, so this may be an instance where Buchholz was still effected by his injury. Another indicator that Buchholz wasn’t fully recovered was his reduced velocity. Although his fastball has averaged 91-92 mph throughout his career, it dipped to 89.1 mph last season.
The Mets are hoping that Buchholz will improve in his second season removed from the surgery. If Buchholz can reach his previous heights, the Mets will be rewarded handsomely. In his last full season, Buchholz posted a 2.17 ERA (3.33 FIP) while pitching in Coors Field. Spending only $600,000 for that potential upside is money well spent.
The signings of Capuano and Buchholz show that the Mets are willing to take risks if the price is right. They may take it even further, as Buster Olney reported they have offered a contract to Chris Young. Capuano had a successful return from Tommy John surgery in 2010, and there’s no reason to think he will regress this season. While Buchholz still struggled with his injury, he was well worth the gamble. Don’t be surprised if these low-cost signings end up making a much larger impact on the Mets in 2011.