Ump Show Reaches Albuquerque, Enrages Carter Capps

Here’s the quick Carter Capps backstory, which I promise will take fewer than 11 minutes and 22 seconds to read: Capps has a really weird, hopping delivery; he had one of the most dominant reliever seasons you’ll see for the Marlins back in 2015; he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016; he was acquired by the Padres in the Andrew Cashner trade at last season’s deadline; his really weird, hopping delivery was (again) ruled legal in the offseason.

Capps found himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Sunday night, with Triple-A El Paso, trying to work his way back to the majors after TJ. Capps’ rehab has been a bit of an up-and-down process so far, featuring a few starts and stops and 10 walks in 14 innings. On the plus side, he’s been pitching regularly in June, and he had five straight scoreless appearances headed into last night’s action.

Then, the umps . . . they decided to go rogue on Sunday night. Here’s what happened, thanks to John Horvath:

Capps was called for two illegal pitches and then ejected after either exchanging (presumably unpleasant) words with the home plate umpire or tossing a ball in his general direction. All three umps got involved on Sunday, with the first base ump calling the first illegal pitch, the third base ump calling the second one, and then the home plate umpire finishing the trifecta with the ejection. Somehow, two of Capps’ pitches made it past this crack crew. (Apparently, Capps was called for another illegal pitch earlier in the series.)

There’s certainly controversy over Capps’ delivery. A lot of people still think it’s illegal. Some think it’s dangerous. As Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball fame explained to me on Sunday night, while the perceived velocity of Capps’ fastball might not be much different than, say, Aroldis Chapman‘s, it’s difficult for hitters to adjust to a ball released so much closer to home than they’re trained for.

These are fair points, sure, but that’s a different discussion. MLB clarified in the offseason that Capps’ delivery was legal, and that so long as he (or anyone else) didn’t hop up or hop twice, he was good. Capps could drag that back foot all the way to Roswell if he wanted. With MLB’s blessing, Capps has been working his way back with a similar delivery to his old one, and he shouldn’t be penalized for it.

According to some reports from after the game, the umpires apparently called the illegal pitches because Capps’ “back foot didn’t stay on the rubber.”

That’s not the rule, or at least that’s not how it’s generally interpreted. Many pitchers lose contact with the rubber as they deliver their pitch: see Clayton Kershaw (link), Chris Sale (link), Jacob deGrom (link), etc.

Obviously Capps is more extreme, but what he was doing on Sunday night is a watered down version of both his spring training and his 2015 deliveries, and it was pretty clearly within MLB’s rules, or at least the way that MLB interprets its own rules.

It’s a 9–5 game in the bottom of the eighth, and Capps is trying to get another inning under his belt on the road back to the majors. He’s trying to work on his control with an elbow that probably doesn’t feel quite right, and he’s trying to work within MLB’s clarified rule, which he’s doing successfully. The last thing he needs to worry about is a minor-league umpiring crew that wants to make a point by enforcing rules they don’t understand.

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  • German Andrade

    Curious to see if this incident gets Capps a bad rap with major league umpire crews. Stay tuned!

    • I don’t think it should. More likely to get that umpiring crew a bad rap with players.

  • GT500KR

    This post took me by surprise. You normally don’t pry into the psyches of players — which is the right thing to do, as fans we have no idea what’s going on in their hearts and minds — but here’s a whole essay on the nefarious behavior of three professional umpires?

    It’s possible that the crew saw something different (pivot foot resetting?) between the pitches that were and were not called illegal. I don’t see it on the video, but it’s not high-quality and the three umps were a lot closer.

    The crew may have interpreted the rule wrong, but that’s a lot different than implying that they were out to get Capps, or intent on enforcing their superiority as if they were infected by the spirit of Cowboy Joe West.

    As for the ejection, I pin that on Capps, even with the paucity of evidence. Doubtful that he hit the ump on purpose, because if he had that kind of pinpoint control he’d be back in the majors already. But yapping some colorful variation of “Serves you right!”? That’s no stretch of the imagination at all, and if so, it was bush league.

    • I was a player once (like most), so I guess I tend to lean toward an irrational dislike for umpires, especially when they do stuff like this, which I perceived as both petty and wrong (by the rules).

      I disagree with that link, the announcers, and (of course) the umpires. I don’t think Capps was “resetting his pivot foot” or anything like that; what he was doing was dragging it, which was clearly ruled as legal before the season.

      I mentioned it on twitter later on, but this crew also called him for *one* illegal pitch in a full inning of work on Friday night, a few pitches after the opposing manager Glenallen Hill came out to discuss something with them (presumably Capps’ delivery.) So they had a couple of games to think about it, and clearly (IMO) they took the wrong approach, and either misinterpreted the rule or wanted to make a point. Either way, I thought it was BS.

      • GT500KR

        If they wanted to make a point, wouldn’t they have called every pitch illegal — every pitch at least after the first illegal call on Friday and every pitch he threw before getting ejected?

        That’s also why I disagree with the notion of the umps misinterpreting the rule. If they’re wrong about the rule but Capps didn’t change his delivery, then they’d call each pitch illegal, not just some of them.

      • To be honest, it’d probably be just as aggravating to do it randomly, which is what it *seemed* like they were doing. They could have done a better job explaining, either to Capps or El Paso in general, what they were looking for, either on Friday night or even during game on Sunday. Maybe they did, of course, but it didn’t look like.

        Anyway, they showed I believe three of the pitches from a side view on Sunday night’s broadcast, and there’s very little difference between any of them. The ones that were ruled illegal don’t look illegal at all (or different from the one legal one) according to MLB’s clarified rule this offseason. MLB basically told Capps he was fine, so long as he didn’t hop upward or hop twice, replanting his back foot, etc. These were straight “hops,” where he was mostly dragging his back foot.

        Further, the explanation after game was that Capps was called for the illegal pitches because his “trail foot didn’t stay in contact with the pitching rubber.” Like I mentioned in the article, that’s not the rule, so if that’s the reason they were called, they were wrong. I just don’t see any real way how the umps didn’t screw up here. Bigger picture, you can blame MLB for maybe not making the rule clear enough or even for allowing this kind of delivery to exist, but that’s another topic.

      • But (goes without saying) I appreciate you reading and calling me out when you think I’m wrong.