Pirates non-tender Capps

In a surprising move, the Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps last night, allowing him to become a free agent. Neal Huntington explained his reasoning, stating that he felt the money saved could be used to replace Capps. I’m not sure that’s accurate, but one quote from Huntington stuck out to me:

If you’re talking about the Matt Capps of ’07 or ’08, that would be very, very difficult to replace. He’s probably not somebody we non-tender. The second half of ’08 and into ’09 … it’s not that hard to replace a reliever with a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA. We’ll miss Matt, and we wish him well. The only reason we had interest in him is that we felt he’s due to have a bounce-back year.

Let’s compare the “old” Capps and the 2009 version, and see if we can expect him to bounce back in 2010.

2006 3.79 4.25 3.97 4.77
2007 2.28 3.16 4.31 3.24
2008 3.02 3.28 3.95 4.07
2009 5.80 4.90 4.37 5.19

In each season from 2006 to 2008, Capps’ ERA was some degree lower than each of his fielding-independent statistics. This indicates that he was not pitching quite as well as his ERA would lead us to believe. This past season, Capps saw a decline in each number. However, the ERA increase of nearly three runs was disproportionate with the other numbers, indicating some bad luck.

2006 6.25 1.34 1.34 0.287 12.20%
2007 7.29 1.82 0.57 0.271 4.40%
2008 6.54 0.84 0.84 0.272 6.80%
2009 7.62 2.82 1.66 0.370 13.50%

Last year, Capps had a career high strikeout rate. Unfortunately, his walk and home run rates were also career highs. The spike in home runs can be explained by a large increase in his home run per fly ball rate. Most pitchers see a HR/FB ratio between 10% and 12%, so I wouldn’t count on Capps’ rate returning to the level of the previous few years. That, along with a soaring BABIP, explains the substantial increase in ERA.

Therefore, Capps was not nearly as bad as he appeared this season. However, he also was not as good as he seemed in previous years. He probably should not be a major league closer, but he can still be an above average reliever. That is what makes it surprising that Huntington non-tendered him, especially considering the lack of depth in the Pirates’ bullpen.

I advocated trading Capps before the 2008 season, while his value was high. Instead, the Pirates waited until his value was at an all-time low, and then lost him for nothing. Not a good move, in my opinion.

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