Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hitters elevating Capps' fastball

After yet another incomplete save opportunity, Matt Capps is once again under the microscope.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson told reporters that he is going to review the video to see if his current struggles are sourced to a mechanical issue. In May, I pointed out that Capps was trekking back and forth on the rubber, something that he had not done in the past. Shortly after that, he quit doing so and rattled off a decent string of outings. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the month, everything he throws up is hit hard back at him.

I’m interested to see if their archives show anything out of the ordinary in Capps’s motion. After doing a quick jaunt through the archives and a few clips saved on the DVR, I am not seeing anything overtly different. Pitch F/X does not offer any insight either. This does not mean he isn’t deviating from his normal mechanics, it just simply means the handful of clips at the two available angles is not revealing anything.

For Capps, his struggles seem to boil down to two key items:

(1) He throws a ton of fastballs. Capps comes with his fastball 82.6% of the time, making that the fifth-highest usage among relievers. (2) His fastball isn’t all that good. The velocity, while solid, isn’t spectacular. Likewise, the movement on his fastball isn’t something that drops or runs making it more difficult to square up. On top of that, in addition to being thrown over the plate, it’s often up in the zone.

So far this season, the results have been wildly different from those of last year:

Matt Capps’s Fastball (2009-2011)

Well-Hit Avg
(via MyInsideEdge)

As we have learned, Capps does not come equipped with the often prerequisite filthy pitch that many of the game’s elite closers possess. He does not have a dominating cutter like Mariano Rivera nor a wafting change-up like Trevor Hoffman. He doesn’t have an overpowering fastball like Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan nor doesn’t have a biting slider like vintage Joe Nathan. He works with his fastball.

The problem is that it isn’t necessarily overpowering. His average fastball velocity is at 92.8-mph, down from 94-mph last year. This could be because he is using a two-seam fastball more (as pitch f/x says) or potentially because of shoulder issues (shoulder injuries effect velocity).

Exacerbating the problem is that he has been using it far too often - allowing hitters to sit on it as BJ Upton did last night (Corretion: Upon further review, Capps hung a slider to Upton, overall point still stands). Now in his second tour of American League opponents, scouting reports have emerged that Capps is incapable of spinning any other pitch. Not surprising, his overall swing-and-miss rate has dropped from an above average 9% miss rate to a below average 7% miss rate.

Because of his reluctance to twirl his slider and the decrease in velocity, not to mention the fact that his fastball is up in the zone more, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of something health-wise affecting his arm. If he has a clean bill of health, Capps needs to work in his slider more often to keep hitters from sitting dead-red on his fastball.