Back in July of 2015, I looked at Carter Capps’s delivery, cited the MLB rulebook, and used the power of technology (care of podcast co-host Damian Dydyn) to look at the controversial delivery from several different angles. The conclusion was, well, inconclusive – while Capps had a delivery that appeared outside the boundaries of the MLB rule book, the rules did not strictly forbid Capps’s approach, and MLB’s guidance at the time gave him permission to move forward using his delivery.
I argued at that time that his 2015 delivery could easily be seen as illegal, violating if not the letter of the law, then certainly the spirit. While there are examples of other notoriously unorthodox pitching behaviors – Luis Tiant, Chad Bradford, Paul Byrd – those are clear-cut examples of gamesmanship that fall within the boundaries of the rules. Since 2015 Capps has been manipulating the very dimensions of the game of baseball by materially shortening the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. However, according to MLB’s guidance, he had only to ensure that he was dragging his foot and staying on a lateral plane. That is where MLB drew the line.
After missing all of 2016 due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, Capps was traded from the Florida Marlins to the San Diego Padres along with Luis Castillo and Josh Naylor for Andrew Cashner, Tayron Guerrero, Colin Rea, and cash. If you recall, part of this deal was eventually reversed, with Castillo and Rea going back to their respective original teams three days later. Capps has returned from his injury and joined his new team at spring training, where he continues his recovery and is expected to join the Padres’ bullpen at some point in the 2017 season. Presuming he is healthy, he will have a legitimate shot to be the closer in San Diego.
Recently, the Padres posted a slow-motion video of Capps to hype up their very patient fans. Unfortunately for them, it is unambiguous proof that Capps is no longer relying on MLB’s 2015 ruling:
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) February 15, 2017
In this video, Capps sets, clearly hops several inches in front of the rubber, and then begins his delivery, finally dragging his back foot. Between the six and seven second mark, his back foot is airborne, and it does not begin to drag until a full second later when it reaches the ground again. By the 12-second mark – when he’s finally finished his rule-breaking preface and decided it’s time to throw a pitch – his back foot is a few feet in front of the rubber.
Damian and I have watched more Carter Capps pitches than is strictly healthy. We tried to use this video evidence to present the case that Capps had an illegal delivery, and I think it is clear – he is not following MLB’s guideline, or the rules as they should be enforced. One flaw in our argument is that Major League Baseball, according to Capps himself, instructed him to ensure that he was dragging his foot and staying on a lateral plane. When Capps eventually returns to the mound, will umpires ignore the video evidence that the Padres just presented the rest of us?
His delivery was illegal then, and it’s even more illegal now. Thankfully, the Padres decided to make the argument a bit easier. Perhaps now MLB will see that it should change its rulebook to address this glaring omission. Pitchers have and will continue to use unorthodox mechanics and gamesmanship to fool savvy batters – Capps’s delivery is a bridge too far.