So how is Chris Capuano doing it? Will the fulminating fricative force that sends its gassy effluence upward from foundation slabs across our befouled nation have to scratch off a grudge mark from the tally sheet of Dodger GM Ned Coletti, or will the currently high-flying veteran lefty (7-1, 2.14 ERA) misplace his absestos suit and return to his former occupation as a human torch?
QMAX shows that Chris has improved markedly this year in hit prevention, though no one (including us) would claim that ten little old starts counts for enough to hang a hat (even an ass-hat) on.
A larger sample (breaking Capuano's lifetime starts down into segments that are close to single season numbers--28 starts per grouping, save for the most recent, which covers but 26...) shows that Chris has never shown any marked ability to prevent hits--as measured by "top hit prevention" (S12) and "hit hard" (HH) percentages.
His current fifteen-start HH average (23%) is the lowest it's ever been, something that he matched only during 2006, when (pre-injury) he looked as though he might be more than a #4-#5 rotation type.
Similarly, his top hit prevention (which has never been very good) has suddenly shot up to its highest percentage in his career.
What's behind this? Might be a time where the more detailed stats can guide us toward a more definitive notion of whether Capuano has found a new level of pitching prowess, or whether he's just had a hot streak.
First, the Fangraphs data shows that while Chris is giving up more fly balls than ever before (45%), he's managing to keep the ball in the park (only 6% of his fly balls allowed have been HRs thus far in '12). Next, the split data at Forman et fil shows that batters are only hitting .135 off him when they've hit fly balls this year, about 90 points below his lifetime average. Measured by OPS, that difference increases to nearly 300 points.
It's also possible that someone in the Dodgers' organization may have figured out that Chris pitches better with five days rest. Half his starts this season have come under such a scenario, and Capuano has been extra sharp so far (4-0, 1.07 ERA). It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers make any effort to target that performance feature over the course of the year.
There's clearly some early-season luck at work, however. Capuano has allowed just a .111 BA (4-for-36) with men in scoring position this year (.406 OPS; lifetime is .750, and he's never finished a season under .650).
We aren't quite so keen on the PITCHf/x data, where we see that Capuano's fastball has suddenly disappeared into a "sinker" that was totally unidentified in previous breakouts. The velocity charts indicate that this "sinker" is within a fifth of a mile per hour of the fastball velocity rate, but somehow the PITCHf/x system has become sensitive enough to detect a different trajectory. Given that Chris' fly ball rate has gone up this year, we're forced to wonder about this.
The big issue with Capuano is stamina across the season; over his career, his ERA in the second half of the season has been more than a run higher than in the first half (4.97 vs. 3.68). The QMAX monthly data splits indicate that Chris starts to lose his edge in June.
So can Capuano keep the ball in the park as the season moves on? That's the big fat question, without doubt. That rate has jumped up 35% in the second half of the year over the course of Chris' career.
We'll soon see if Chris can keep his fly zipped. If he can, this might turn into one of the most unexpected turnarounds in recent memory. But Capuano will need to sustain this kind of changed pattern over the next couple of months before anyone should decide that what they've seen thus far in '12 is for real.