Chris Capuano appeared on 570′s Dodger Talk yesterday with Jorge Jarrin, and as you’d expect from a man holding an economics degree from Duke, he was gracious, well-spoken, and articulate, touching on topics from improvements to Dodger Stadium to PEDs to the maturation of Clayton Kershaw to life in the minors to playing for Don Mattingly after growing up as a Red Sox fan in Massachusetts. Considering how practiced and vague most athletes are in public, Capuano provided a level of insight that’s rare, so the entire thing is worth a listen.
After taking a question from a caller who asked about how he’s reacted to all of the trade rumors, Jarrin followed up by asking if he might be willing to work out of the bullpen if it comes to that. I’ve transcribed Capuano’s reply:
Probably a few years ago, I’d probably have said I never would have considered that. But coming back from injury, my second Tommy John in 2010 with the Brewers, I had a chance to spend a couple of months in the bullpen with Trevor Hoffman, who was in his last year in Milwaukee, and actually that was when I learned that I could do it, that I could kind of switch gears if I needed to. You know, for me, I still feel good, I threw almost 200 innings last year, my body continues to feel stronger and stronger as I’ve figured out a pretty good routine for myself. I’ll be 35 this year, so I’m not too old yet, but I feel as strong now as I did when I was 24 or 25. You know, it’s tough, when you start your entire career in the big leagues, it’s tough to make that transition, if you feel like you’re still successful, if you’re still putting up numbers, it’s tough to make that transition from taking the ball every fifth day and doing the routine that you know.
We’ve long assumed that at least one of Capuano or Aaron Harang will be traded before the season — perhaps both, if Chad Billingsley & Josh Beckett can each stay healthy through the spring — and that if no one is injured, Ted Lilly would be in the bullpen, since his age, salary, & recent arm surgery probably make him untradeable. That might still be true, but I’ve long thought (and probably said here in passing at various times) that Capuano would be a perfect weapon out of the bullpen.
As we know, Capuano has a long history of falling apart in the second half of the season. For his career, his first half stats — .734 OPS against/3.70 ERA — are far superior than what he’s been able to do after the break — .804 OPS/4.94 ERA. That was of course magnified even further in 2012, when he completely fell apart down the stretch (2.91 / 4.76 ERA split) culminating in a horrible “19 strikeouts in 40.2 innings over his final eight starts” run to end the season.
We also know that under almost no circumstances can Capuano pitch beyond five innings. That’s held true over his career (.867 OPS / 6.69 ERA in the sixth, each the highest of any inning) and in 2012 (.921 OPS / 7.29 ERA, again the highest).
That’s not to denigrate Capuano, who ended up being a very nice surprise in his first season in Los Angeles, just an acknowledgement of what he can and can’t do. He can give you four or five good innings while missing some bats, and he’ll fade down the stretch. As he ages and his velocity continues to decline, that’s unlikely to change at this point, so if you can limit his exposure — say, as a reliever who can give you an inning or two while being death on lefties, as his platoon splits indicate he is — that’s all of a sudden a pretty valuable piece, one that might be more worthwhile than trading him for whatever meager return he might fetch, in addition to the rotation insurance he’d provide.
It’s not like it hasn’t worked before; while the samples are small and it was his first year back after missing two seasons to arm trouble, that time in the 2010 Milwaukee bullpen went well. Capuano pitched 20.1 innings over 15 games, with a 20/6 K/BB.
Obviously, there’s still a lot to shake out in the Dodger rotation this spring, because health, performance, and salaries are all going to play a role. Capuano might not end up being one of the five best starters on the club, but if my choice in the bullpen is between him and Lilly’s brand of homer-prone-and-completely-unable-to-hold-runners-on slop, I know where my preferences lie.