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Throwing Money at Relievers? Red Sox Could Do Worse Than Matt Capps

In case anyone hadn't noticed, the Red Sox' approach to building their 2010 bullpen has been, by-and-large, to throw as many guys as possible at it and see what sticks. To this point in the offseason, they've acquired 5 guys to fill possibly as few as 1 spot:

Scott Atchison, who at 33-years-old has spent all of 3 seasons and 68 innings in the MLB, spending the rest of his time in the minors or Japan.

Ramon A. Ramirez, who only managed a 4.11 ERA starting in AAA last year. Also, that's just gonna make things really confusing.

Fabio Castro, who pitched in the majors 3 years ago and has put up numbers very similar to Ramon A. Ramirez over the intervening years in AAA.

Robert Manuel, who actually posted fairly good numbers over the last couple years in AAA, but has all of 4 innings of major league experience.

And Boof Bonser, who I believe was acquired as part of a cruel practical joke.

Also likely to join this motley cast of characters at camp are names like Dustin Richardson (a converted starter who only pitched 11 innings in AAA last year) and Fernando Cabrera (who recently resigned with the team).

So, if this is how the Red Sox are going to try and solve their bullpen, why not add another name to the list: Matt Capps.

Now, it's usually not a good sign when a player's resume includes "non-tendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates", but for Capps that is the case. As a result of Capps' being non-tendered, he is now a free agent able to negotiate with any team he so chooses. On the surface, he may seem like a non-commodity, given his 5.80 ERA coming out of the pen. But a deeper look shows that he's worth at least as much of a shot as Boof Bonser.

To start with, there's the career 3.61 ERA. He has been good in the past--very good, in fact. In 2008 he posted a 3.02 ERA. He did even better in 2007, with a remarkable 2.28. So what caused the sudden collapse, and is it indicative of a problem with Capps himself?

The short answer is no. The most obvious number that will jump off the page to anyone is the .370 BABIP against him. That is a ridiculous number, especially given the fact that his line drive percentage against went down by nearly 5 points. He also gave up fewer fly balls, going from 46% to 40.7%. All this, of course, went to ground balls, which rose from 31.1% to 40.7%. This should speak to hitters making less solid contact against Capps, instead clipping the balls and driving them into the ground. Which makes his greatly inflated HR/FB numbers (from 6.8% to 13.5%) even harder to explain. Maybe it was just that when he threw a bad pitch, he threw a really bad pitch. But more likely, it seems as if Capps just got unlucky.

The other problem with this year were his walk rates. Now, while 2.82 BB/9 is actually pretty good, it's definitely high for Capps, who gave up less than 1 walk per 9 innings in 2008 and 1.82 in 2007. Again, though, there doesn't seem to be an obvious reason why his walks increased. In 2009, compared to 2008, opposing hitters swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone, a lower percentage of pitches inside the strike zone, made more contact outside the zone (again, makes one wonder how that BABIP was so high with such mediocre contact being made) and less contact inside the zone. Between 2008 and 2009, Capps went from 56.6 percent pitches thrown in the zone to 55.3 percent--hardly enough to explain such a leap.

For a team that's clearly unsure what they're doing with much of their pen, to the point where they're signing never-will-be's by the handful, Matt Capps should be an obvious target. He may fly under the radar thanks to his unimpressive 2009 numbers, but anyone who digs deeper will find a good pitcher hampered by bad luck despite sticking to the same process that made him a top reliever in years past. If Capps is looking for a contract befitting his peripherals, than perhaps it's best to pass him over in favor of smaller gambles. But if that market fails to develop, then the Red Sox should be first in line to sign him up.