Carter Capps on His Controversial Delivery (and Triple-Digit Heat)

Carter Capps didn’t begin his pitching career in a conventional manner. The North Carolina native was a catcher in high school and didn’t move to the mound until he matriculated to Division II Mount Olive College. He didn’t become a newsworthy big-league pitcher in a conventional manner, either. Capps had a 100 mph heater, but he’s best known for an unconventional delivery that elicited no shortage of controversy, and ultimately a rule change.

Capps worked out of the bullpen for the Seattle Mariners and Miami Marlins from 2012-2015, missed 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and returned to pitch for the San Diego Padres in 2017. Along the way, the now-29-year-old right-hander struck out 184 batters in 147-and-two-thirds innings. He’s now coaching at Driveline.


David Laurila: You didn’t start out as a pitcher, but rather a catcher. How did that come to be?

Carter Capps: “I wasn’t very fast, and I could always catch and throw, so I figured, ‘Shoot, I’ll do that.’ I was a pretty good defensive catcher — at times I could hit well — and because I got to be involved in every play, it never got boring. I really liked that part.”

Laurila: Did you pitch in high school at all?

Capps: “I probably pitched seven or eight innings in my senior year. That was kind of as-needed, and only as a reliever.”

Laurila: Do you know how hard you were throwing?

Capps: “I went to a showcase, and as things were wrapping up they said, ‘Does anybody else want to try throwing off the mound?’ I looked around and nobody was raising their hand, so I figured I’d try it. I was like 89-91 [mph], so it wasn’t crazy velo. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing.”

Laurila: When, and how, did you start throwing hard?

Capps: “We had a really good strength program at Mount Olive — I really got after the weights — and that helped a ton. It gave me a strength base to control my body, and as I got accustomed to a little longer arm action, everything synced up. It probably took about two years to get more of a pitcher’s arm swing. I was very short for a long time. The college coaches would always tell me, ‘lengthen it out, lengthen it out.’ They encouraged me to elongate my arm path so that I could get better scap retraction and encourage a more advantageous layback phase.

“As a starter, I was 93-96. I went to the Cape Cod League and relieved, and there I was up to 99-100. I signed that summer, and then was a starter again in [Low-A] Clinton, Iowa. After that I was just a reliever, and that’s when the velocity kind of jumped up. I was told that in the Double-A All-Star Game I was 102, although I think the highest I recall seeing was 101-something.”

Laurila: Do you feel that you ever truly learned how to ‘pitch,’ as opposed to being what is typically termed ‘a thrower’?

Capps: “I would say no. I probably should have been a starter longer in the minor leagues, to really learn ‘how to pitch.’ I mean, I learned how to throw an offspeed pitch in the big leagues, which isn’t really an ideal place to learn to throw one. Having been a catcher I knew how to call a game, but it’s a little different on the other end.”

Laurila: What ended your career?

Capps: “Some of it was the injury, but honestly, a lot of it was the rule change. I was a high-leverage reliever, and you can’t put me out there as a potential balk. I can’t balk in the winning run.”

Laurila: What is the story behind your delivery?

Capps: “I’d been a conventional pitcher. I did have some triple extension on the back leg. If you look at my Seattle time, my ankle, knee, and hip would all kind of get extended. That isn’t ideal, but it’s not an issue when the angles are right. But for whatever reason, in 2013, [the Mariners] wanted me to be more upright with my torso. When that changed, I was still getting the triple extension of the back leg, but it changed the angle to where I was more vertical. Instead of the force being more down the slope of the mound, and lateral, it became more vertical because my torso was more upright — my pelvis was more skyward — and all of a sudden the force I was creating was going in the wrong direction. That’s when you get the airborne effect, like Jordan Walden, or whoever.

“Then I got traded, and didn’t know what Miami wanted. I kind of got caught in between and, honestly, kind of lost my mechanics for awhile. When I did find something that worked really well, they didn’t want me to go away from it. I repped that out a bunch of times, and it became muscle memory. Then the rule change happened, and I was kind of in limbo.”

Laurila: Was going back to a more-conventional delivery not a viable option?

Capps: “I tried for years. The issue was the timing of it all, really. I had Tommy John surgery in 2016, and then the rule change came out in spring training of 2017. I spent all of my rehab anticipating that I’d be throwing one way — I was reinforcing those mechanics — and now I was no longer allowed to throw like that. It just spiraled down from there.”

Laurila: Hadn’t you altered your delivery at one point, to where it wasn’t quite as extreme?

Capps: “Oh yeah. I tried to make a ton of alterations. Basically, it was always going to be umpire discretion. It was the third base umpire’s opinion — or maybe it was the first base umpire — as he has the best angle. But it was like watching a bang-bang play every time. Was it legal or not? I would go out and pitch a game and everything was fine, and then I would pitch again in the same series, with the same umpiring crew, and I’d get called for three balks. I just couldn’t play like that.”

Laurila: How consistent was your delivery? Were some pitches more balk-worthy than others?

Capps: “You’d have been hard pressed to find many degrees of separation. There might have been a little more or less at times, but it was within a very concentrated margin. They were pretty consistent.”

Laurila: In other words, you could get called for a balk on the fourth pitch you threw, even though the first three deliveries were nearly identical.

Capps: “Oh yeah. That happened. I’d throw a 20-pitch inning and get called for two balks, but if they were balks, there had probably been more than two. It was odd that you would just call a couple. I’d have umpires come over after I’d had one called on me earlier in a series, and they’d tell me that after watching it on video, they’d made a mistake; it wasn’t a balk. I’d be like, ‘Well, I appreciate that — I really do; I know it’s not easy to apologize — but it doesn’t help me now.”

Laurila: For the most part, umpires were pretty understanding…

Capps: “Aah, no. It was very hit-or-miss. I had some umpires ask, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I had other umpires say, ‘Hey, I know you’re doing your best to make changes, but if it’s too borderline we’re going to call it.’ That I appreciated, but overall it was definitely a sliding scale, depending on the guy.”

Laurila: Circling back to the genesis of your delivery, your coaches would have known that it was borderline illegal. Why did they allow you to stay with it?

Capps: “I think it was the success I was having. I was getting a lot of outs, and a lot of strikeouts. It was their call. I guess it was mine as well — I could see what I was doing — but they didn’t want me to change it in Miami.”

Laurila: You admitted to having been more of a thrower than a pitcher. What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

Capps: “I always knew that I threw hard, but I didn’t know why I threw hard. I think that any athlete, any pitcher, should really do their due diligence to understand biomechanics — how you generate force, and how that applies to velocity. Just going out there and saying, ‘Stay back and throw hard’ isn’t how you throw hard. There are certain spots you have to hit in your delivery. You have to create momentum, you have to efficiently stop that momentum, you have to transfer it up the chain. It’s not as genetic as a lot of people think.”

Laurila: How does your delivery relate to that?

Capps: “For me, the hop was really more of a timing mechanism. If you look at my arm, I kind of stabbed down in the back after hand break. My arm just kind of stalled out there, so the hop was… yeah, it was generating force, but it was also a timing mechanism.”

Laurila: What did hitters tell you about your delivery?

Capps: “Guys told me that it was difficult to see, and it kind of jumped out at you. Things like that.”

Laurila: Do you think that was more the deceptiveness of a unique delivery, or more perceived velocity?

Capps: “It was a little bit of the perceived velocity, for sure; I was closer on release. But I was always a big extension guy, and I was always deceptive because my stride was pretty far across my body. I was on the third base side of the rubber, so righties never really saw the ball until it was on its way. Lefties somewhat, as well. But I think the effective velocity jumped things up quite a bit. It’s what caused hitters to have problems. Ultimately, they thought it was unfair.”

Laurila: Do you know what your spin rate and specific movement profile were?

Capps: “No. I could go pull it up right now, but I try not to look at it. It’s still too new for me. Eventually I’ll be able to go back and look at stats, and all that, but right now it’s kind of hard. I’m still kind of dealing with the transition.”

Laurila: You miss being on a big-league mound…

Capps: “Oh, yeah. That’s kind of why I got into coaching, My career was kind of forced to end, rather than me just walking away. It was kind of a ‘We’re not going to let you play anymore’ kind of thing, so it’s still a little bit raw.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Cave Dameron
3 years ago

I missed having in the big leagues just to watch other teams’ fans get all riled up about his delivery.