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Lovin' the new cutter, Cappy

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As far as intelligent baseball analysis goes, April sucks. We don't have much more information to go on than we had through the whole offseason, and much of what we do have gets blown out of proportion by sportswriters who have to file three columns a week regardless of whether there's anything to write about.

So, in celebration of April, I'm going to do exactly what everybody else does in the opening month--only, I hope, with a tad bit more circumspection.

Chris Capuano turned in another great start last night--not only his fourth consecutive quality start and longest outing thus far, but an impressive performance in a hitter's park (one that's notoriously tough on lefty pitchers!) against a smokin' hot offensive team. And--oh yeah--the pressure was on, as the Crew tried to avoid a sweep against another pretty good lefty named Andy Pettitte.

Aside from the extra inning of work, there's very little he did last night that he didn't do in each of his three previous starts:

Chris Capuano 2006 Starts
Date Opp IP ER H BB HR K ERA WHIP BB/9 HR/9 K/9
4/4/2006 Pittsburgh 6 2 5 0 1 7 3 0.83 0 1.5 10.5
4/9/2006 Arizona 6 1/3 3 3 4 1 7 4.26 1.11 5.68 1.42 9.95
4/14/2006 New York 6 3 6 2 1 6 4.5 1.33 3 1.5 9
4/19/2006 Houston 7 2/3 2 5 2 1 8 2.35 0.91 2.35 1.17 9.39

The thing that leaps out at me is the strikeout rate. It's next to impossible to strike out a batter an inning and not be successful. Check out this list of the single-season leaders in K/9--I'm not suggesting we should enshrine Cappy in Cooperstown just yet, but his current 2006 K rate of 9.69 would put him 64th among the best single-season performances.

You know, ever.

Next, let's take a look at his overall stats for this year, next to his last two seasons, as well as PECOTA and ZiPS projections for this year. The second row in the table is just his current 2006 stats extrapolated to 32 starts. (I used the very complicated, advanced method of multiplying by eight. Thank you, AP Calculus.)

Cappy 2004-06 Stats
Year --- IP ER H BB HR K ERA WHIP BB/9 HR/9 K/9
2006 TOTAL 26 10 19 8 4 28 3.46 1.04 2.77 1.38 9.69
32 starts: 208 80 152 64 32 224 3.46 1.04 2.77 1.38 9.69
PECOTA 198 1/3 195 76 26 149 4.28 1.38 3.45 1.18 6.75
ZiPS 182 92 176 73 24 153 4.55 1.37 3.61 1.19 7.57
2004 88 1/3 49 91 37 18 80 4.99 1.45 3.77 1.83 8.15
2005 219 97 212 91 31 176 3.99 1.38 3.74 1.27 7.23

While all projections need to be taken with a grain of salt, these do warn us that maybe, just maybe, Cappy's true talent level is not right in line with Pedro Martinez's 1998 season. However, we do know that he's added a pitch. Mike Maddux seems to spend a lot of his time teaching cutters, whether--in the case of Rick Helling--reviving a career, or--perhaps with Cappy--making a solid mid-rotation guy into a stud. It could be that extra weapon; it could be a small sample size.

There are still some concerns: the rap on Capuano has always been his HR rate, and this year has proven no different. His walk rate is a little high, but if he keeps striking out a batter an inning, he has more wiggle room with free passes than he's had in the past. It doesn't matter if you put a runner on now and then if you can strike out the side!

As you can see, I've emphatically jumped on the draw-ridiculous-conclusions-in-April bandwagon. Even setting aside all that, figuring Cappy really can't turn in a quality start every time out and maintain a 9.69 K/rate, there's plenty of reason to hope he can improve substantially on last year's performance. We'll have a lot to watch for in his next few starts.

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