Dodgers expect Capuano to fit well in rotation
Lefty fly-ball pitcher eager to throw in spacious home park
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers are utilizing statistical analysis more now than at any time in Ned Colletti's tenure as general manager, and Exhibit A is new fifth starter Chris Capuano.
The Dodgers signed Capuano to a two-year, $10 million free agent deal after newly hired front-office number-cruncher Alex Tamin determined that the lefty fly-ball pitcher was a double fit in the club's tight payroll and spacious ballpark.
Capuano, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke, couldn't argue with the analysis.
"I thought, with that stadium, it's a perfect fit and it was a happy decision in the end," said the 33-year-old. "I'm not into all the stats, but my dad (Frank), who played in the New York-Penn League for the Seattle Pilots, he has a passion for the game and he tells me about the numbers.
"I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know Dodger Stadium is a good park to throw in. Not only is Dodger Stadium a pitchers' park, but the NL West historically is up for grabs every year. Put together a good team and you can win the West in a given year."
To that end, Colletti signed Capuano and fellow free agent Aaron Harang (two years, $12 million) for the combined 2012 salary he would have had to pay departing starter Hiroki Kuroda.
Capuano comes with a checkered history. He's one of the few Major Leaguers to return from a second Tommy John surgery, the first in 2002 as a Minor Leaguer, the second in 2008 while with Milwaukee.
In between, he was an 18-game winner in 2005 and an All-Star in 2006, but was saddled with a Milwaukee-record 13-game losing streak that lasted more than three years.
He returned from the first operation in time to make his Major League debut one year to the day, but encountered significant setbacks after the second procedure and was sidelined nearly 2 ½ seasons.
He credits Milwaukee pitching coach Rick Peterson for getting him back on track in 2010.
"He works a lot with biomechanics and he gave me a long-toss program to free up my torso and take the pressure off my elbow," Capuano said. "We tweaked my mechanics and my velocity came up. I'm throwing as hard as ever and it's made my changeup better and I feel I can attack more. I give him a lot of credit."
In 2010, Capuano was ready for the big leagues by the end of May, finishing up that year 4-4 with a 3.95 ERA, starting nine of 24 games. He left the Brewers that winter and signed with the Mets, who put him in the rotation and let him pitch every five days. He went 11-12 in New York with a 4.55 ERA and threw 186 innings, his high since 2006.
Doubters will say his effectiveness tailed off after the second time through the lineup and only 14 of his 31 outings were quality starts. The Dodgers will counter that improvement in his strikeout stats mirror the improvement that led to his finest season of 2005.
His career stats in NL ballparks isn't pretty: 4-9 with a 12.93 ERA and 11 homers in 86 1/3 innings. Last year it improved to 1-2, 2.89 and one homer in 18 2/3 innings.
"My feeling is that the last couple years, you can notice the metrics are a lot like '05 and '06 when I had my best years," Capuano said. "What that told me confirmed what I was feeling, I feel as strong or better as when I was 25.
"When I heard the Dodgers were interested early on I was really hoping I had a good shot to sign there. I've had a good feeling about this from day one. People think these decisions are always scientific. But I sit and close my eyes and imagine myself in the uniform, and if it feels right, I do it. This feels right."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.