Chris Capuano was far and away the Brewers best pitcher for the first three months of the season. With Ben Sheets on the shelf, his contributions were badly needed. However, after his brilliant six-hit shutout of the Cubs back on July 6th, he's 0-4 with a 7.67 ERA. After failing to put together a quality start only once in the first half, he's only managed one since the break.
What's wrong? I sometimes get a little peeved at comparisons like the one I just drew, because the cut-off date could've been completely arbitrary, and everybody has occasional streaks of bad luck. However, Cappy's decline happened right after the All-Star break, the first time all year his routine was seriously disrupted. And after zero poor outings for two months, four out of five raises a giant red flag.
My first instinct was to guess that he's tired. He did log 129 innings in the first half (up to 158 now), a number he's only topped three times in his pro career, but never so early in the season. However, Capuano had a very strong first half last year, as well, amassing a 3.48 ERA.
Could it be that he always fades in the second half? He did fall off a bit last year after the break, but not nearly as dramatically as he has this year. His ERA dropped off to 4.56, but his month of July looked an awful lot like what had come before it.
Statistically, the glaring problem in his numbers is his HR and flyball counts. Cappy has always been a flyball pitcher, and he's always teetered on the brink of giving up too many home runs. For the last month, he crossed directly over to the other side of that brink.
Over his MLB career, Capuano has allowed 1.27 HR per 9 innings. That's high, but it's survivable. Since the All-Star break, he's coughed up more than three dingers per nine. In his four poor outings since the break, he's given up more fly balls than ground balls (31:36), while in all other starts this year it's been the other way around (167:153).
So, after all that, we have a pretty simple answer, common to way too many pitchers, and without a simple solution. Too many flyballs usually means balls left up in the zone. Could be a slight problem in his mechanics, could be he's getting too confident against the league he dominanted for three months.
Regardless of why or how Capuano has faded, one thing is clear: with Ben Sheets's status once again uncertain (is it ever certain?) we need Cappy more than ever.