The Hangover: The Return Of Carter Capps

Hey, the Hangover is back too. 

The last time we talked about Carter Capps it was back in June, and Capps had just finished a showdown with an umpiring crew in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

After missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, Capps spent the first few months of this season in the minors, mostly in Triple-A El Paso, with good but not great results. In 27 2/3 innings, he struck out 30, walked 11, and allowed just one home run. Over his final 9 2/3 innings on his extended rehab, he struck out 15 and walked just one, showing the Padres that he was ready for another test.

Last night, in Cincinnati, Capps made his return to a big-league mound. There were, as you might expect, some positives and negatives.

Positive No. 1: His velocity was down, but not way down.

According to Brooks Baseball, Capps’ four-seamer averaged 93.3 mph last night, but he pumped one in there at 96 and a couple of others at 95-plus. Back in 2015, the peak Capps experience, he was averaging 98-plus, and that doesn’t include the extra perceived speed his delivery adds. So the velocity is clearly down, but it’s still just his first appearance on a big-league mound in two years. The positive here is that he was able to get it up to 96, which maybe indicates that he’ll be up to 95-plus on the reg by the time this season’s over.

Positive No. 2: He did not get called for a balk.

Capps’ calling card is that super weird delivery, where he hops er slides off the rubber toward home plate, gaining precious inches in the battle against the hitter. Last night, Capps appeared to have his new-ish delivery down pat, and the umps didn’t dare call him for a single balk.

Negative No. 1: He was all over the place.

On the double to Scooter Gennett, Capps missed up and in on a pitch Austin Hedges wanted down. Capps then closed his outing with two non-competitive at-bats, as he walked Arismendy Alcantara and Tucker Barnhart on a total of nine pitches, missing wildly with most everything.

Here’s his strike zone plot for the game:

He was missing consistently to the arm side with the fastball, although he also yanked a couple low and in. The curve was more around the plate, but he wasn’t able to use it while ahead in the count as a put-away pitch. A pitcher’s command/control is often said to be the last thing to come back following Tommy John, so it could take Capps a while to get a feel back for the strike zone.

Negative No. 2: He only got one whiff on 28 pitches.

Capps only got one whiff all night, and even that came on a hanging curve. Back in 2015, Capps induced a swing and a miss on 18 percent of his fastballs and a staggering 40 percent of his curveballs. When batters swung at Capps curveball, they missed 76 percent of the time. He only threw 10 curves last night, so let’s not sound the panic alarm quite yet. Overall, though, just getting the one whiff on 28 total pitches is somewhat concerning. Using the same fastball/curve breakdown from last night, Capps would have gotten, in theory, seven whiffs if we wormholed this outing back to 2015.

It’s clear what we saw last night wasn’t quite 2015 Carter Capps, and that was mostly to be expected. His rehab assignment took longer than expected in El Paso, and even the numbers he put up there weren’t as gaudy as we’d have liked. Throw in some lost velocity and trouble finding the strike zone, and there’s work to do here. He’s back, though, and he provides another interesting reliever to watch out of the bullpen. Under control through next season, there’s still some time to get Capps back cranking on all cylinders.

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