There was some grumbling in Milwaukee when Chris Capuano signed with the New York Mets. After all, the 32-year-old lefty was a popular Brewer who had just survived his second Tommy John surgery in order to put up 66 decent innings as a long man and sixth starter last year. In the end, though, the grumbling died down to a whimper, because there were two unassailable reasons that “Cappy” was allowed to walk. For one, the pitcher himself preferred the chance to make a major league rotation, a chance that the Brewers didn’t necessarily offer.
They didn’t offer that chance because they already had another, younger, Chris Capuano on hand: Chris Narveson.
The similarities go much further than first names. Both throw with their left hands. Both are six-foot-three. Both were drafted by organizations other than the Brewers. At some point in their careers, both Capuano and Narveson were signed to minor league deals by the Brewers. In terms of their body types and the paths they took to Milwaukee, there are plenty of commonalities here.
But it gets a little spooky when you start delving deeper. For one, both are fastball-changeup artists. Over his career, Narveson has used his 88.5 MPH fastball around 50% of the time. Capuano? 87 MPH and 60.5% of the time. “Capuano Jr” uses his 80.4 MPH changeup 22.3% of the time, “Capuano Sr.” uses his 77 MPH changeup 23.5% of the time. Sure, Capuano works in a slider as his third pitch, while his replacement prefers a curveball – but you can see that these pitching mixes are very similar.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that their results are similar. Even though the changeup is a ground-ball pitch, both Narveson and Capuano are fly-ball pitchers (39.6% and 40.4% ground balls, respectively). Both lefties get about an average amount of strikeouts (7.88 K/9 for Narveson, 7.38 K/9 for Capuano) and pair it with decent control (3.27 and 2.98 BB/9). Add up average-ish ground-ball rates with average-ish strikeout rates and slightly above-average control, and what do you get? Average results. Capuano has a career 4.44 FIP, Narveson a 3.96.
Of course, this simplifies the equation. Narveson does not equal Capuano. Capuano never struck out eight per nine in a full season despite having an above-average swinging strike rate. Narveson is doing that this year and might be able to keep it up all year. Capuano also never had a 45% ground-ball rate, and Narveson is achieving that right now. Despite the fact that Capuano was the second-round draft pick acquired in the Richie Sexson trade, and Narveson was the minor league pickup after other teams jettisoned him, the newer version has a chance to be an update with fewer bugs.
And that’s why a team might make the choice that the Brewers made this offseason. $1.5 million is not a truckload of money, but it’s more than $440,000. If there’s a chance the newer version could be better and cheaper, and you’re talking about your fifth starter, it’s almost a no-brainer. Despite all the things that Capuano had gone through in a Brewers uniform, the decision made sense. And they’re reaping the benefits of the newer version of Capuano now.