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Chris Capuano: NL Starting Pitcher

If the vast majority of the baseball world lost track of Chris Capuano somewhere around 2009, I can’t really blame them. Capuano had one really good season in 2006 that was flanked by two middling seasons in 2005 and 2007, and then succumbed to such a rash of arm injuries that I have to wonder if they considered amputating it to save him the trouble. Undeterred — and with his arm still attached to his person — Capuano made his triumphant return in 2010 with the Brewers, but only made nine starts and didn’t look particularly compelling doing it.

His change of scenery to New York in 2011 saw him make 30 or more starts for the first time since 2006, and while his numbers weren’t fantastic, they did portend some of the success he has had this year with the Dodgers. He posted a K% over 20 percent for the first time since 2004 and the first time ever in a season where he made more than 20 starts, something that has carried over into this season, as Capuano is striking out nearly a batter an inning so far this year.

At present, Capuano is offering a truly complete package: He’s striking hitters out, posting a WHIP under 1.20, an ERA under 2.50, and has four wins in his six starts. The strikeouts are the most likely to still be part of his profile at the end of his season, as he’s currently supporting them with a nearly 11 percent SwStr rate. The wins are more or less a tossup — as wins are wont to be — but his rate stats strike me as a bit shaky. Capuano is currently holding opposing hitters to a .194 batting average against, based on a BABIP some 50 points below his career average and nearly 60 points below league average. The effect of a BABIP regression on his WHIP is obvious: it’s going to go up, but the effect on his ERA could be even more dramatic.

Capuano has never been a control specialist per se, and he’s currently walking 10 percent of the hitters he’s facing, which means that if he starts allowing hits at anything resembling his career rate of more than a hit per inning, there’s a real chance that those hits will come with someone on base. This is, of course, somewhat mitigated by the fact that he’s getting so many strikeouts, but he’s currently posting a career low groundball rate, which means that those deus-ex-machina double plays could be tougher to come by. Taken as a whole, while he isn’t going to turn into Jair Jurrjens overnight, the potential exists for a rather rapid downturn in Capuano’s performance.

So where does that leave owners? Capuano is owned in just 57 percent of Yahoo! leagues but fully 78 percent of ESPN leagues; for the short term, I recommend him either as a hold or as a grab if he’s available. He’s slated to face the Rockies at home, the Padres in PETCO, avoid the series against the Cardinals, then face the Diamondbacks in Arizona. While the Rockies have one of the highest scoring offenses in baseball so far, they are much tamer away from home, giving Capuano back-to-back low risk starts before a bit of a test in Arizona. If nothing else, he’s a great streaming option for those first two starts and could even be against the Diamondbacks depending on who else is available at that time.

If selling high on him is a possibility, I recommend it, but don’t give him up just for the sake of avoiding a potential decline. He has high value right now, he will absolutely still have some after regression kicks in, but if you can turn him into someone like Yovani Gallardo or Mat Latos as part of a larger deal — or as an even swap with a sufficiently frustrated owner — so much the better.