Moneyball is not looking for on-base percentage hitters, drafting college players or any baseball-specific thing. It's merely finding undervalued assets. The initial moves made by the new Mets hierarchy are illustrative of this. Last week, the Mets played Injury Moneyball.
Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz were severely undervalued by the market, presumably because of their recent Tommy John surgeries. Never mind that Capuano was a former All-Star and Buchholz once a prized prospect who had a 217 ERA+ for the Rockies in '08. No team wanted either. The Mets cleverly plucked Capuano for $1.5 million and Buchholz for $600,000.
Judging by these signings, baseball general managers do not understand the medical facts when it comes to recovery from Tommy John surgery. A 2007 Study published by The American Journal of Sports Medicine abstract found that 82 percent of Major League pitchers who undergo the surgery fully recover. That's commonly understood. But a little information can be a dangerous thing. Less well known is that the mean recovery time was 18.5 months, according to the study. This means that of those who fully recovered, half took less time and half took more.
GMs throughout baseball jumped the gun in assessing Buchholz's post-operative prospects. Of course, there is a chance he will fall within that 18 percent who do not fully recover. But what he did upon his return last year was irrelevant to this assessment given that he was pitching just 12-to-15 months after surgery.
Looking at Buchholz's velocity graphs on Fangraphs, you can see why teams assumed he's not going to make it. But the best test for his post-operative prospects falls outside the 2010 window. As a result, the Mets cleverly have purchased all of the upside that Buchholz bounces all the way back and becomes a $3 million reliever and potential closer for just 20 cents on the dollar. Smart bets sometimes do not win, but it sure beats the alternative of wagering on the likes of Luis Castillo and Alex Cora.
While I can understand why the market was dumb on Buchholz -- he's back from injury and not throwing hard and thus the surgery did not work -- the Capuano case is more confusing.
Look at his velocity charts.
He's fully back to pre-injury levels well within the 18.5-month (on average) window.
What about performance? His 100 ERA+ was exactly league average. But in Sept./Oct., in six starts Capuano threw 34 innings with a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and and 2.1 K/BB. This was 16 months past his TJS, the second of his career. Maybe that scared teams off. But he should be good for another couple of years and certainly the one year the Mets are paying for. It seems very reasonable to project Capuano as a league-average starter, worth about $4.5 million in 2010 dollars. So Capuano, who again, already seems back to pre-injury form, was purchased for about 33 cents on the dollar.
I talk to Mets fans all the time and they uniformly express disappointment in this offseason. Here is my message to them: hope isn't on the way, it's here. The Mets have progressed from sub-standard baseball management based on what passes for good in competitive fantasy baseball leagues to elite management at the professional level. With the Buchholz and Capuano signings, we're no longer projecting how adept the Mets will be in leveraging payroll resources. We are witnessing it.