It’s Easy, Not Easy To Be Carter Capps

Jeff Sullivan · April 15, 2013 at 10:23 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Carter Capps is a player in major league baseball! He’s 22 years old and two years ago he hadn’t even been drafted yet, from a little school you couldn’t place on a map. He’s young, he’s loved, he’s healthy, he makes good money doing what he’s good at, he’s already earned his boss’s trust, and he’s blessed with the sort of raw stuff most relievers would…well I don’t know if anybody would kill for Carter Capps’ stuff, but plenty of people would probably willingly break the law. Carter Capps has an awful lot going for him, and better days probably still lie ahead. Capps has things as figured out as any young reliever can.

But boy has Capps ever gotten boned on the strike zone. Ryan Divish tweeted a few things on Sunday to the effect of Capps not getting the benefit of the doubt because he’s inexperienced, he throws from a funky arm angle, he doesn’t have great command, and his pitches really move. There’s also the matter of the people who have been catching Capps in games. But anyhow, check out Capps’ called strike zone since his debut, courtesy of Texas Leaguers:


Thanks to StatCorner, we can also put that into numbers. A league-average reliever has had about 15% of pitches in the strike zone called balls, and about 6-7% of pitches out of the strike zone called strikes. That strike zone is defined as the strike zone that’s actually called, not the strike zone in the rule book. Capps, meanwhile, has had 29% of his pitches in the strike zone called balls, and 4% of his pitches out of the strike zone called strikes. Now, that’s only counting pitches not swung at, and with Capps we’re dealing with samples of about 120 pitches taken in the zone and 189 pitches taken out of it. These samples are little and so these samples and the other results come with considerable error bars. But in the early going, the numbers back up the claims — Capps is not an easy guy to catch, and he’s not an easy guy to call. So he ends up with pitches that aren’t balls getting called balls, as a consequence of how unusually talented he is.

Some of this should go away as Capps establishes himself as a big leaguer. Some of this should go away as Capps stops pitching to Jesus Montero. Some of this should go away if Capps improves his command. And this isn’t preventing Capps from succeeding — he’s still thrown nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, and he’s got 38 strikeouts in 32 innings. The neat thing about Carter Capps is that his stuff is so good he doesn’t need a generous strike zone, or even an average strike zone. He’ll work with what he’s given and he’ll still make hitters miss, and I’m guessing he won’t keep running a .382 BABIP. Capps is already good, as things are.

But Capps hasn’t been treated fairly. I’m not even necessarily blaming anyone. I can’t imagine what it’s like to catch a guy who throws like that. It’s probably hard enough to catch Joe Saunders. I can’t imagine what it’s like to call a guy who throws like that, since I imagine I’d constantly be flinching and covering my junk. I get why things are the way they are, but I’d love to know how Capps could look if he pitched to the same zone as most of the rest of the guys in the league. Just because this smaller zone is sort of a tax on a guy with better-than-average stuff doesn’t make that fair to the guy with better-than-average stuff. All pitchers should pitch with the same rules.

Carter Capps is going to make hitters swing and miss. At least for the foreseeable future, he’s going to have to, because called pitches haven’t treated him very generously. Congratulations on not thinking about how Dustin Ackley sucks for the last five minutes. Oh, crap.


9 Responses to “It’s Easy, Not Easy To Be Carter Capps”

  1. MrZDevotee on April 16th, 2013 12:51 am

    Even if all pitches had been called correctly, isn’t that a pretty high percentage of balls to strikes Capps has thrown? (Just glancing at the chart.)

    That probably plays a bigger than insignificant role in getting strikes called. I’m pretty sure Capps isn’t trying to only throw a little over 1/3 of his pitches for strikes. So it would imply that balls aren’t going where he wants them to, and if you add a catcher who doesn’t frame or block pitches well to that equation, things go south quickly. I’m sure it’s more fun for an ump (fun meaning “likes to call that pitch a strike”) when the catcher sets up, and the pitcher hits the target, and the two of them located it really well– than it is to have a guy throwing wildly, to a catcher whose awkward style increases your chances of being killed by one of those weird angle, out of control, 99 mph missiles.

    (And that next to last line was brilliant, or sad, or both.)

    But hey- congratulations on getting a comment on this that doesn’t mention Casper Wells being DFA’d by Toronto! (Oops.)

  2. maqman on April 16th, 2013 3:05 am

    Damn, you had me feeling all warm and fuzzy about one member of our team and then you had to remind me of Ackley, the man with the iron swing.

  3. demon777 on April 16th, 2013 3:31 am

    MrZDevotee It doesn’t include pitches that have had contact. So that is not all the pitches he has thrown. Says so in the article if you read a little more carefully.

  4. kbarnhouse on April 16th, 2013 7:52 am

    Wow. That one “ball” is almost directly in the center of the zone. How does any professional umpire call that a ball.

  5. CCW on April 16th, 2013 8:52 am

    Jeff, I sent you an email on this, related to your post regarding umps and calls over at Fangraphs. On one hand, stuff like this makes me want more than ever to use technology to fix this situation. At the very least, a computer could tell the umps whether the ball crossed the plate. That is a 100% objective fact question that we could get right with basic technology. On the other hand, such technology would render an entire skill set in baseball (pitch framing) basically irrelevant. Is that necessarily Good?

  6. MrZDevotee on April 16th, 2013 10:33 am

    “Is that necessarily Good?”

    Probably depends if you’re a Mariner and/or Montero fan. And THAT obvioulsy would be completely subjective… So as Elton John and Simba sing to the world’s 4 year olds “… the circle of life…” (in the majors).

  7. Sam Donnelley on April 16th, 2013 12:22 pm

    CCW – Yes, that is good. I consider the “skill set” of pitch framing the same as the “skill set” of flopping convincingly in soccer. Both are intended to psychologically manipulate an official, and both serve to diminish the quality of the game. Obviously flopping in soccer is much further along the spectrum than pitch framing, but in my mind both detract from the game and should be eliminated.

  8. Dobbs on April 16th, 2013 12:26 pm

    Wow, I’d probably get tossed out of a game if I was pitching with an umpire that couldn’t call a ball down the middle a strike.

    If Hockey and Soccer already use goal-line technology, why not call strikes and balls correctly? I wonder how many umpires bet on games they call and don’t get caught.

  9. 9inningknowitall on April 16th, 2013 1:45 pm

    Maqman I couldn’t agree more. I was all pumped reading about Capps and then it was like tripping over a curb because I wasn’t paying attention. Kind of a low blow but great post.

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