Fall In Love With Carter Capps, Right Now
I’m not gonna lie to you: as much as I’m ashamed to admit this, I kind of took Carter Capps for granted.
Ordinarily, when you take for granted someone drafted out of that small a school, what you take for granted is that he’s going to suck. But the Mariners have long been high on Capps, and I have been, too. Once I heard the reports, I was interested. Once I saw the numbers, I was captivated. Once I saw the pitching with my own eyes, I was hooked. I’ve allowed myself to get ahead of myself, to the point where for a while now I haven’t really considered Capps to be a developing prospect. I’ve counted him as a good relief pitcher, with a promising present and a promising future.
I hate the behavior of assuming prospects. It’s always been a gamble to assume Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, and we’re paying the price for having assumed Dustin Ackley. I’d chuckle at people who assumed Stephen Pryor, just because he threw a hard, straight fastball. But I can’t help myself with Capps, I’ve never been able to help myself with Capps, and it might be time that we all fall in love.
Here’s a fun fact: Capps’ velocity is down in 2013. Whatever. It’s early and he had velocity to lose. Here’s another fun fact: against Capps in 2013, batters have attempted 41 swings, and just 24 of those swings have made contact. I can’t overstate that it’s only April flipping ninth, but Capps has come right out of the gate and been unhittable. And he’s also been a little different.
I noted the velocity, and Capps is down from about 99 miles per hour to about 95 miles per hour. But he’s topped out above that, and it’s still the first half of April, whereas last year we saw Capps down the stretch. And there are other things, where I’ll try to keep from getting too technical.
In the early days of PITCHf/x, everything could be turned into a blog post. Everything was turned into a blog post, because everything was interesting, because everything was new. Look at this, we have charts of release points and pitch movements and pitch locations and pitch trajectories. So many of us did it. So many continue to do it, but to me it sort of feels stale, so just trust me on the statements I’m going to make. They’re going to save you some data interpretation.
Capps has always had an extreme arm angle, throwing from way over by third base. I don’t think it’s fair to call him a side-armer, but he isn’t too far away. In the early going this season, Capps has gotten even more extreme, dropping a little lower and shifting a little further to the side. We’ll have to stay tuned to see whether this keeps up, but for the time being it’s both subtle and noticeable. Perhaps Capps made a tweak.
But the bigger tweak is to the breaking ball. According to Ryan Divish’s twitter from last night, Capps has thrown both a slider and a curve. Last year, he threw a fastball at 99 and a breaking ball at 84, with sink and sweeping horizontal movement. This year he’s thrown a fastball at 95 and a breaking ball at 84, with less sink and less sweeping horizontal movement. In the spring he showed some breaking balls in the high 70s. What seems to be the case is that, last year with the Mariners, Capps was throwing a curve, and this year with the Mariners, Capps has thrown a slider. Between his fastball and his breaking ball, there’s been a smaller difference in speed, lateral movement, and vertical movement. It’s not subtle, and it’s noticeable.
Capps talked in the spring about falling in love with his slider, like he had himself a new and newly reliable weapon. Now, when you have a fastball/slider righty reliever, usually you plan on there being extreme platoon splits. And Capps might end up having extreme platoon splits, but here’s the thing about a slider released from Capps’ arm angle: it behaves kind of more like a cutter. At least, that’s what this taught me. From a Geoff Baker article in March:
Capps has also been honing his slider into what he calls a “slider/cutter” because it has elements of a cut fastball to it. He’ll throw it even when he’s behind in a count and “steal a strike” from both right-handed and left-handed batters.
Cutters are effective against opposite-handed hitters. That’s the whole Mariano Rivera thing, and they offer an alternative to learning a quality changeup. Relative to last season, Carter Capps has been throwing a different breaking ball, and he’s fond of it. Hitters are decidedly less fond of it, probably.
Now, things aren’t all that simple. With Capps’ breaking ball, it’s not always easy to tell whether he’s throwing a slider or a curve. When there’s inconsistency in movement, we don’t know if that’s deliberate or a mistake, a form of user error. Last night, Capps threw consecutive breaking balls to Chris Carter, completing a strikeout. Here’s one of them. It was 84 miles per hour. Here’s the second one. It was 86 miles per hour, with four more inches of sink, and more than two more inches of run. Was the second one a curve? If so, why was it harder? Did Capps just throw different sliders? Did Capps mean to throw different sliders?
Capps is generating some movement I might consider unpredictable. I don’t know if that’s accidental or intentional, and it’s got to be hell for his catchers. But it’s also got to be hell for the hitters, and the early numbers bear that out. Capps was untouchable in spring, when he was leaning on his new-ish slider. He’s been untouchable through a measly four regular-season appearances, but he’s looked different, and difference makes you think about sustainability. Carter Capps might have already arrived.
I almost didn’t write this post, because I didn’t go in with a prepared conclusion. I don’t have a singular “point”. Capps’ breaking ball is different, but I don’t know how much to make of that. I guess we’ll see. And I guess my point is that Carter Capps is so very exciting, so very watchable. Every team has electrifying young relievers somewhere in the system, because there are a lot of that player type. But not every team has a Carter Capps somewhere in the system, because there’s less of that player type. Capps might already be one of the most unhittable relievers in the major leagues. He’s a good weapon with a new weapon.