As the 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers
streak sputter to a 47-38 record towards the All Star break, and a razor thin half game lead on the San Francisco Giants, I want to take time to reflect upon the successes the high octane offense the Men In Blue have regaled us with:
Home Runs, NL: 16th place
RBI, NL: 13th place
OPS, NL: 15th place
Runs, MLB: 26th place
Slugging, MLB: 28th place
With injuries to Kemp, Ethier, and now Dee Gordon, the hopes of an offense rest firmly upon the shoulders of AJ Ellis, and a cast of outcasts…
…let’s talk pitching, yeah? YES! Let’s talk pitching, I love throw pitchers and the way they throwpitch, indeed. Here’s how the Men In Blue have fared thus far, pitching-wise:
ERA, NL/MLB: 2nd place
BA Against, NL/MLB: 2nd place
Strikeouts:, NL: 4th place
Well, if there was any doubt before, this is proof the Dodgers are getting it done this year with pitching. With a staff anchored by last year’s Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, and the maddeningly inconsistent albeit talented Chad Billingsley, it’s been the back end of the rotation that has really propelled the team to the record and their standing in the NL West that they enjoy. While Kershaw and AJ Ellis are busy making small talk between two palm trees , the likes of Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, rookie Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Capuano have held down the fort, and in surprising fashion. With a 21-14 record between the four of them, and an overall team W-L of 29-22 in games they pitch, the 3-4-5 guys in the rotation have been the unsung heroes of this year’s team.
However, one of the four stands out as having a career renaissance, and that is Tommy John surgery and Milwaukee Brewers survivor, Chris Capuano.
A handsome man – I hear he checks into hotels under the name ‘Sir Hotbod Handsomeface’ – a Masshole, as well as a Duke alumnus, there is much to dislike about Cap. However, I just can’t bring myself to do it, and neither can Dodger fans, as his 9-3 record, with 12-5 team record during his starts has been one of the few bright points in a frustrating season thus far for the Chavez Ravine denizens. Adding to this frustration is his absence from the All Star team given his fantastic start to 2012, but as we will see, this isn’t new to Capuano.
Having a breakout 18-win, non-All Star bid season in 2005, followed with a 2006 All Star berth, Capuano spent the prime of his career with Milwaukee. However, since 2008, Capuano has been a vagabond of sorts. Requiring a second career Tommy John surgery after the 2007 season, he spent quite a while recovering, and rehabbing from the surgery, only to be non-tendered, then resigned to a minor league contract by the Brewers. Suffering from mediocre results, and a slight downtick in fastball velocity, Capuano spent most of 2008-2011 trying to recapture the magic of his 2005-2006 seasons with the Brewers. A single season with the New York Mets in 2011 provided some hope and flashes of his former pitching self, which was rewarded by the Dodgers with a 2 year, $10 million deal in the 2011 offseason.
Since his tenure with the Dodgers, Capuano has been nothing short of amazing, as his statistics attest. Yet, questions remain. How can a pitcher in his mid-30’s, after 2 Tommy John procedures, suddenly garner the success that Cap has had in 2012, after so many years of mediocrity, and in essence, only one above average career season?
Well, let’s take that one great career season, compare it to this year’s resurgence, as well as an amalgamate season of the mediocre years, and see if history does in fact repeat itself, or if there’s some sort of black magic at the root of Cap’s fantastic 2012.
Here’s what we have – this table shows some essential stats from 2005, this year, and an average ‘meh’ season for Capuano during his off years between 2006-2011.
Some off the cuff remarks:
Not shockingly, Capuano surrenders less runs during his peak years of 2005, and 2012, compared to his average mediocre year. His strikeout, and walk rates aren’t too dissimilar, although his 2012 has him striking out more batters, and giving up less home runs, but only by a hair. One interesting tidbit is his BABIP splits. During the ‘meh’ years, his splits weren’t too drastic – batters hit just as well off of him, regardless of handedness, with an overall BABIP of 0.303, which is usually league average. However, his 2 strongest years show a drastic split between batter handedness. In 2005, Cap did a great job of neutralizing lefty batters compared to righties, but in 2012, it’s the exact opposite – quite a conundrum, and an interesting quirk of his career resurgence. Also of interest is Capuano’s FIP/xFIP numbers; up until this year, he typically pitches under expectations, as seen by the FIP > xFIP results before 2012, whereas this year, he is pitching beyond expectations.
So nothing is really screaming out at us as to how to describe how Cap is having such a successful year thus far. He isn’t striking out a ton of guys, or more than usual, he’s not missing more bats than usual, and in general, the things that a pitcher can control in the game – walks, home runs, and strikeouts – aren’t too far off career averages, regardless of the era we’re studying.
Let’s have a peek at this pitches, both in terms of velocity, and selection.
|2005||61.9% (86.4)||17.2% (78.0)||0.2% (74.0)||20.8% (76.5)|
|2012||56.6% (88.1)||3.6% (81.2)||5.4% (83.7)||8.9% (75.4)||25.5% (77.8)|
|Meh Yrs||59.9% (87.5)||12.7% (78.1)||1.2% (83.5)||5.6% (76.7)||24.0% (77.3)|
Velocity-wise, Capuano is your standard, government issue lefty. Lots of movement, lots of deception, mixes pitches well, and nothing overpowering in terms of fastball- he’s averaged 86-88 MPH on his heater throughout his career. Selection-wise, he is also pretty unremarkable, although we do see that he has fiddled with a couple of different offspeed pitches over the years, finally settling with a sinker/slider/changeup repertoire we see in 2012.
But here’s is where we find the difference between this year, as compared to other years – his pitch selection. Looking at pitch values, we see that over the years, Capuano has gotten by with some below average stuff, with only his curveball (CB), and changeup (CU) coming in with a positive linear weight, indicative of it being an above average pitch. Overall, we see that most of his stuff is slightly below average.
However, in 2012, Capuano has seemed to have learned a new pitch, in the form of a sinker. Pairing this with his already above average changeup, and we find the secret to the resurgence of Capuano’s baseball success. The table below uses PitchFX data to determine pitch type and their respective linear weight, which does a better job of discerning sliders from cutters, and fastballs from sinkers, and the like, as compared to the previous table. PitchFX data was only available from 2007 on, so for this table, I am providing all years, versus an average of his ‘meh’ years, which included 2003-4, and 2006.
So as we see with this table, it’s the sinker (SI) and his changeup that he seems to have mastered, and is doing the trick for Capuano in getting hitters out, and runs off the board in 2012. It also gives us some explanation as to why lefties are hitting better off of him these days than righties, as sinkers and changeups from left handed pitchers will have a tendency to sail down and in to a lefty, which is their power zone. However, sinkers rarely get elevated for home runs, and we see that reflected in his career best HR/FB ratio 9.9% of this year. Also, his groundball rate for 2012 are on par with previous years’ rates.
So there’s our black magic. Keeping the ball down in the strikezone, changing speeds, having batters pound the ball into the ground, and keeping flyballs in the park are the panacea of Chris Capuano’s career. And to think, it was as simple as a change in the grip of his fastball to turn it into sinker that made it happen.