The Mariners demoted Carter Capps to AAA Tacoma after a horrific start to his 2013 season. While Capps’ strikeout rate was basically the same as it was in his excellent MLB debut in 2012 season, and his walk rate actually decreased, the hard throwing right-hander suddenly became home run prone. With an elite fastball, it wasn’t surprising to see him as a successful reliever in the minors, and then transition to the Majors like he did in 2012. It is surprising, however, that he has become so hittable. Comparing the dominant Capps of 2012 with the struggling one of 2013 may give us an insight at what went wrong with him this season, and hopefully identify how he can return to his old self.
Here are where the average locations of his major results were located in 2012 (entire graph is strike zone):
He threw extremely hard, over 95 MPH on his average pitch, regardless of classification. When he gave up contact, it was usually because he threw low in the zone and more glove side then average. When he got whiffs, it was on high fastballs. He was a dominant fastball pitcher with some of the best stuff in baseball. Fast forward to 2013, where the graph speaks for itself:
The problem seems pretty simple, he isn’t throwing as hard this year. He is throwing more breaking and off-speed pitches than last year (which you would expect he would have to do as the league sees him more, just to give hitters different looks so they couldn’t sit on his fastball), which brings down his average velocity some, but he also isn’t throwing his fastball as hard either. His top 25% of pitches this year is 96.9 MPH. In 2012 it was 99.4 MPH, meaning that he isn’t topping out at near the same velocity he was last season. In 2012, he threw 16 pitches 100 MPH or better. This year, he hasn’t thrown a single pitch 99 MPH or over according to Pitch F/X. The velocity drop is not only a somewhat helpful explanation for his struggles (if the pitches aren’t as fast, they are easier to hit), but velocity drop is often an indicator that something else is wrong as well.
His numbers against righties weren’t dominant, but he was doing pretty well when he had the platoon advantage this season. However, Capps has been really poor against lefties this season, and his release point has become further out so far this year. Let’s see how he is pitching lefties this year, first by pitch types (MLBAM tags)
Everything is kept pretty arm side, except for the slider, which is still glove side on average. Here are what his average result locations look like against lefties, a graph that can be compared to the first two graphs:
Most of his pitches are thrown a little more arm side against lefties than overall, that is, more away, usually a good approach. He is also throwing harder, meaning he is throwing more fastballs and less curves/sliders. The contact and whiff tendencies are basically the same. Aside from the release point, the other thing that is probably holding Capps back from being successful against lefties is a lack of a changeup that he has confidence to throw frequently.
Here are where Capps has thrown his changeup against lefties in 2013:
There aren’t many, and of course, that is part of the problem. The other problem is that he threw some glove side, when it is supposed to be an arm side pitch. The only two he has gotten swings on are the ones that are located pretty well, on the far arm side part of the plate and relatively low. The higher one turned into a hit, while the lower one turned into a swinging strike. The rest were balls. It isn’t a pitch he is even getting called strikes with.
Even with the quick success of Nick Franklin and Brad Miller and the apparent emergence of Justin Smoak, the Seattle Mariners seemed to have had their share of hyped prospects failing quite spectacular. If Carter Capps doesn’t get his velocity back and doesn’t develop his changeup, the actual long term consequences for the franchise wouldn’t likely be that large. Capps is a reliever, and the Mariners have other relief prospects. However, it would be extremely frustrating. Capps has a great arm and it would be a shame if he didn’t live up to his potential, especially since it seems that Stephen Pryor has a knack for being on the DL.
The release point and velocity data suggests that he may not be healthy, though the Mariners apparently think he is, as he is pitching in AAA. We don’t know how he feels, so it is difficult and unwise to speculate about an injury. So perhaps the goal in AAA should be for him to raise his arm angle some, and work on his changeup, throwing it frequently (not caring about results, just working on the pitch).