The pitching staff of the New York Yankees is the reason that they have even the slightest chance to make the postseason this year. Michael Pineda, Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy have been getting a lot of credit for their performances. Nobody has really realized just how good Chris Capuano has been.
When the Yankees traded for Capuano for cash on July 24th, he was thought just to be a filler in the rotation for a little bit. However, he has pitched so well that he has managed to stay in the rotation ever since. He has been another bargain bin pickup found by the Yankees' analytics team that has turned into much more than that.
Capuano's 1-2 record and 4.01 ERA will not jump out at you right away until you look deeper into his peripheral numbers. The Yankees don't score runs for anybody, which explains his record. His 3.20 FIP with the Yankees suggests that he has been unlucky. Capuano's .324 BABIP this year backs this up, as it is 22 points above his .302 career BABIP.
The first thing that stands out about Capuano is that he doesn't walk anybody. He had four walks in his first start for the Yankees, but has had only three over his next six starts. He's also been striking out more people than you would expect based on his stuff. His 8.6 K/9 with the Yankees is over a full strikeout above his career average. Capuano's strikeout to walk ratio is an incredible 5.13.
Capuano's best pitch by far for the Yankees has been the changeup, and it seems that they have encouraged him to throw it more. He has thrown 256 sinkers for the Yankees (37.0% of all pitches) compared to 231 changeups (33.4%). For his career, Capuano has thrown the sinker 54.7 percent of the time and the changeup 27.9 percent.
Opposting batters are only hitting .188 against Capuano's changeup and he has gotten 25 strikeouts off of it. When he hasn't been striking out hitters with it, he's been getting grounders, as Capuano has a 60.8 percent ground ball rate with his changeup. It has been worth 6.1 runs above average, according to FanGraphs' pitch values, and that registers it as the only pitch in Capuano's mix that rates as above-average.
If there is one thing the Yankees deserve credit for this year it is improving their pitchers and finding hidden gems. They allowed McCarthy to bring back his cutter that Arizona wasn't allowing him to use and bet that his luck was due to turn around due to his xFIP. They encouraged Capuano to throw his changeup more and he's thrived with it. Greene's ERA is over a run and a half better at the MLB level than it was at AAA.
It's hard to know just how much credit to give the Yankees for all of these things. McCarthy was probably due for much better for much better results even if he stayed in Arizona, but credit the Yankees for recognizing that and fixing his repertoire.
It is hardly a coincidence that they are getting optimal performances out of these pitchers. Maybe they didn't take a mostly career replacement-level pitcher like Capuano and turn him into something much more than that. However, they had to think that a better process would produce better results than he was getting.
It is very encouraging that their advanced scouting and analytics team has gotten the Yankees some good values on the mound this year. Hopefully they can find a similar formula to get them some undervalued hitters this offseason.