Carter Capps Might Be Too Weird For Major League Baseball
No one in baseball pitches the way Carter Capps does, and few relievers have pitched as well. But his bizarre leaping motion might be too weird to be legal.
Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Of course you already know who Carter Capps is. He is a relief pitcher for the Miami Marlins, after all, and if you're like most people you already have an encyclopedic knowledge of Marlins relievers. As such, you already know that Capps is very good, and has the strangest pitching motion seen in baseball since...well, possibly the strangest pitching motion, full stop.
Capps' goodness is a matter of record at this point. He has struck out an astonishing 49 percent of the batters he has faced. This leaves two big questions about that motion. The first is, oh my GOD what even is that? The second is, how can that motion possibly be legal?
The answer to that second question, so far, is yes; anyway, to date no Major League umpire or opposing manager has made the case against it. Major League Baseball has done nothing to stop it. This is a bit like a cute little kid walking into a candy store, flashing an adorable smile, grabbing a single piece of salt water taffy, and heading out the door giggling. It's not good if that's your kid, but one salt water taffy isn't going to ruin the business. The problem comes if the kid comes back in 20 minutes with his entire first grade class and they all start stuffing their pockets.
Capps doesn't start bizarrely. He stands on the rubber like any normal pitcher and brings his left leg up while dropping the ball out of his glove. That's where the banality ends. At that point, in the midst of bringing his lift leg forward, Capps uses his back/push leg to... well, push everything. Capps pushes off the rubber, but instead of using that momentum to accelerate his arm, he launches his entire body forward off the rubber and down the mound towards the plate. The visual effect is that of watching someone stop his normal pitching motion, leap over a brook—hey how did that get there?—and then continue the motion on the other side. Most pitching motions, as you've probably noticed, don't feature intermissions.
That little leap Capps takes mid-motion is the subject of controversy. Only in baseball would a tiny little leap bring on the freak-out squad, but this is baseball and so here we are. The problem is that Capps' little rabbit hop effectively shortens the 60 feet, six inch distance between the pitcher and home plate by roughly a foot. Given the fact that Capps' fastball already averages 98 mph, this gets closer to 'unfair' than some people would like.
This unfairness can be seen in the destruction Capps has wrecked upon opposing hitters. Capps has only thrown 24.1 innings this season, so you have to drop the qualifying innings total to 20, but when you do, Capps' K/9 of 17.0 becomes the best in all of baseball. He's exactly two K/9 ahead of best reliever in baseball Aroldis Chapman, and 2.5 ahead of great relievers Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Dellin Betances, and also everyone else because that's what 'best in baseball' means. Capps has faced 94 hitters this season and 46 percent of them have struck out. That's insane. Capps has also walked only 6.6 percent of the batters he's faced this year. This is also insane.
But nobody really cares about 6.6 percent of whatever the hell. Capps throws 98, does so very weirdly, and it's questionable whether or not what he's doing is even fair. And now we're back to the cute kid lifting that piece of taffy. Baseball is fine if Capps is the only one jumping off the rubber like he just stepped in dog poo, but if a bunch of other guys start doing it, we might have a problem.
Or, more to the point, hitters might have a problem. Last Tuesday, Capps faced Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox with men on base. He gave up a run scoring single, but the fastball Bogaerts hit for that single was effectively 105.5 mph. It's not that the ball ever traveled that speed. It didn't. But because the pitch was released closer to home plate, it took the same amount of time to reach the plate as a 105.5mph heater would have had it been released like a normal pitch. Capps is adding somewhere between three and six mph to his fastball through his hopscotchy vault. Think there aren't relievers out there who would like to add six mph to their fastballs? Until recently there were guys willing to shrink their testicles with supplements they bought from some dipshit in a Gold's Gym parking lot for that kind of velo boost, so let's assume they won't rule out adding an actual jump to their delivery
Right now Capps is a very good reliever with a very odd delivery. Like Oakland's switch-pitching reliever Pat Venditte, Capps is his own ring in the circus, he's pointing to your friend and trying not to spill your beer while excitedly exclaiming, "look at that shit!" He's fun. He's eccentric. He's exciting. He's good baseball, inarguably.
But if Carter Capps is the vanguard of very good relievers with very odd deliveries then baseball is going to have to put virtual ink to e-paper and try to legislate what for over 100 years had not needed legislation—the specifics of how a pitcher relates to the mound while throwing a pitch. Nothing takes the fun out of fun like overly specific rules—right, NFL fans?—so for our sake and for baseball's, let's hope Carter Capps is at the end of this cul-de-sac of baseball evolution, the last pitcher with a mid-delivery hop.