Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pellas on the Pirates: Matt Capps


Tonight's come from ahead loss to the Reds featured Matt Capps' fourth blown save of the season, with three of them coming in the past three weeks. I'll say it again: he's somewhere between better than average and good when it comes to major league closers. But he's definitely not great, and unless he can develop a reliable second pitch, he's going to continue to give up the long ball, and said dingers and the losses that result from them will continue to come at the most inopportune times.

It's great that he throws strikes, don't get me wrong, and lots of hurlers are very effective with a "here it is now let's see you beat me and by the way you gotta earn everything you get" kind of approach to pitching. But I've always been a little concerned about Capps as a closer rather than as a top setup guy, because he really only throws one pitch---a fastball---and it is neither overwhelmingly fast nor does this pitch have exceptional movement, whether up and down or side to side.

In other words, he's basically an exceptionally good "straightball" pitcher. Capps throws a good and maybe even very good fastball in terms of velocity, but from what I've seen, it is mediocre in terms of movement. And knowledgable baseball people will tell you that unless you're an elite power arm like Nolan Ryan or Goose Gossage, you really can't get by as a one pitch fastball pitcher, much less when your fastball isn't great but merely good in terms of velocity and/or movement. (And lest we forget, both of those Hall of Famers could really throw a curveball, too!)

Capps' failures at key times in key games this season also call other issues into question. For example: Can he truly be counted on to mow down the enemy's best hitters most of the time? Further, if this team is not likely to contend in the near future, might it be better to trade Capps and groom someone else for the job? In other words, is he in the end more valuable as a trading chip than as our closer? And even if in the next couple of seasons the Pirates exceed expectations and they do make a run at either the division title or, more likely, at the wildcard, is Capps the kind of closer who could actually get us the last out in a Division or Championship series?

However we answer those questions, Capps' recent failures have led to crushing losses. While even the best relievers get beat from time to time, the recent success the opposition has had against Capps in late innings, game-on-the-line scenarios is disturbing.

Will Pellas shares his expertise and opinion with the GW in "Pellas on the Pirates" as the spirit moves him - and it sure looks like it moved him last night.


WilliamJPellas said...

Heh heh, loved your comment at the end of my latest post, Ron. FYI, I was listening to the game on the Reds broadcast. Interestingly, one of the Reds broadcasters is Jeff Brantley, the former All-Star reliever. He seems to think very highly of Matt Capps, based on his glowing compliments prior to the 9th inning. Unfortunately it was downhill for the Pirates from there.

Ron said...

We think Capps is aware that he needs a second pitch, Will. In fact, it looked like a change-up that Junior launched last night. It was down in the zone and dove, but right over the heart of the plate.
He doesn't get much movement out his two seamer, so a curve/change or something that's off speed and moves is pretty much a given to be added to his arsenal if e wants to progress.
It's tough to paint the corner with every 91-92 MPH heater, and we've noticed quite a few warning track shots hit off of him lately.

WilliamJPellas said...

I'd feel bad about my comments if not for the fact that I don't believe Capps' recent ineffectiveness was due primarily to his injury. Then again, if he comes back throwing aspirin tablets, I'll happily admit I was wrong!

BTW, I'd imagine Damaso Marte will get more than a few save opportunities in Capps' absence. Could drive his trade value up even higher.

Ron said...

A pang of guilt, Will, hehe? A misaligned arm might explain those beach balls he's been tossing up lately. But if he's to thrive, I agree 100% he needs an off speed pitch to slow down righty bats and baffle lefties. A bulldog attitude will take you far, but not as far as an attitude with nasty stuff to back it up.