Baseball announced a handful of rule modifications today. For the most part, they’re concerning pace-of-play adjustments — there’s the modification about the new, automatic intentional walk, and there’s a line in there about a two-minute guideline for determinations on replay reviews. There’s nothing in there that should cause too much of a stir. We were given plenty of warning about the intentional walks. Yet one bullet point stands out from the others:
- An addition to Rule 5.07 stipulates that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is at least one runner on base, such an action will be called a balk under Rule 6.02(a). If the bases are unoccupied, then it will be considered an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).
With that, baseball has moved to clarify and formalize its position on Carter Capps‘ delivery.
It should be considered a direct and, all things considered, swift response to Capps’ demonstrated throwing motion from the other week. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s how Capps looked in an early throwing session with the Padres:
Where there had previously been one hop, suddenly there were two. Capps hopped off the rubber, then hopped forward again, and even though this was just spring-training work in the bullpen, a throwing motion is a throwing motion. If two hops would be allowed, why not three? Why not four? Why not a couple dozen? What would stop a pitcher from hopping all the way to the front of the plate before essentially handing the ball off to the catcher? I’m not sure how it took until 2017 to get people to think about this, but I suppose Carter Capps is something of a pioneer.
And now, officially: nope. Can’t do that. Can’t double-hop. You can do it all you want in the bullpen, but in a game, that’s a ball or a balk, depending on the circumstances. Now there’s a barrier in front of that particular slippery slope.
Yet if you listened to Capps and the Padres, that early throwing motion was never going to be the regular-season throwing motion. Capps is still coming back from surgery, so he’s being conservative about how he’s pushing himself, and he’s in the process of building up arm strength. The goal is to get back to what Capps was. This is what Capps was:
He was weird before he was weird. Importantly, MLB determined the above delivery was legal. Based on their own interpretation of the rules, MLB gave Capps’ motion its blessing, so long as he didn’t jump *up*. It was emphasized that Capps would have to drag his back foot. So it remains. From the various indications, baseball’s stance hasn’t changed, and it’s still okay with Carter Capps, circa 2015.
Andy Green: Padres will continue to correspond w/MLB re:Carter Capps’ delivery. Their current understanding is the hop-drag remains legal.
— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) March 2, 2017
Source: MLB’s interpretation on Capps’ delivery has been consistent in recent years. Today’s rule addition formalizes that interpretation.
— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) March 2, 2017
One hop is fine, while 2+ are not. There was Jordan Walden, and now there is Carter Capps. The way baseball explains it, there’s nothing wrong with the way Capps throws, so long as there’s something of a “drag line” in the dirt. It should be clear from the Marlins video embedded above that any such drag line would be faint. The video isn’t in sufficient resolution to tell, but I’m not sure Capps is dragging at all. In that one clip, I’m pretty sure Capps’ back foot comes off the mound before re-positioning itself. Maybe Capps is working on that today. Maybe he’s consciously trying to drag. It’s going to be difficult; drag the foot too hard, and it’ll throw off Capps’ momentum. It’s important to point out how difficult it is to throw like Carter Capps does in the first place.
With MLB having formalized its stance here, it’s natural to wonder what comes next. Capps is likely to generate a bunch of strikeouts again. But I wonder if he’s going to be susceptible to opposing manager challenges. There’s no point in challenging anything, really, with the bases empty, but say Capps is pitching with runners on first and second. Or, say Capps is pitching with a runner on third. Might a manager come out and ask the umpires to look for a drag line, after a pitch has been thrown? If no such line is visible, could they then call a balk, advancing the runner(s)? Or would that not be allowed? Capps, in order to protect himself, could always etch a drag line when he’s out there making his warm-up throws. This part gets complicated.
And you always have to wonder about mimicry. This has been one of the concerns ever since Capps made his first headlines. Officially, you can throw like this. It would appear to confer an advantage, if you can perfect the muscle memory. There’s no other pitcher in the majors right now who does this. I haven’t heard of anyone in the minors, either — I chased a potential lead last week, but it turned out to be false. Adjustments could be coming, though. Among professionals, you’d be most likely to see these tweaks among fringe-y types and hangers-on. It’s like trying a sidearm delivery or messing around with a knuckleball. And I’m sure there’ll be younger players all over the place who give this a try, if only for fun. Professional baseball draws from the youth players, and baseball’s youth has always enthusiastically imitated the stars at the highest level. Capps is a young and hard-throwing strikeout machine.
For now, you could say this is more good than bad. Capps is one guy, and he’s atypically interesting. He’s good without being too good, and MLB blocked the most egregious delivery type. And one should remember Capps isn’t good just because of the way he throws — he had a high-90s fastball even before his hopping went extreme, and he stands 6’5. Yet Capps’ delivery is right on the edge of permissible, and there will be opposing teams who want to catch him in violation. And as longer-term considerations go, Carter Capps is unlikely to be the last professional pitcher to throw like Carter Capps. MLB has signed off on this, and the throwing motion seems to be helpful. There’s no shortage of pitchers who want to give themselves some help.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.