Matt Capps’ saves becoming increasingly expensive for Twins


When the Twins traded Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps last July 30 they touted Capps’ status as a closer. And not just any closer, they repeatedly said. Capps was a “proven closer” and an “experienced closer” and an “All-Star closer.”

Regardless of their wording, the message was clear: They felt that Capps’ track record as a closer for the Pirates and Nationals made him a major upgrade over Jon Rauch, who’d been filling in for the injured Joe Nathan.

I hated the move at the time, writing that a prospect as good as Ramos was far too big a price to pay for Capps, whose save totals masked the fact that his actual performance was merely setup-man caliber and not significantly better than Rauch. That stance was viewed as heresy by many Twins fans. After all, they said, the Twins had acquired a proven, experienced, All-Star closer and that would allow them to remove Rauch from a role he was ill-suited to fill.

However, once you strip away the labels and perceptions there simply wasn’t much difference between the two pitchers. And certainly not enough difference to warrant giving up a prospect like Ramos for the right to pay Capps three times as much money as Rauch. At the time of the trade Rauch had a 3.05 ERA and was 21-for-25 converting saves. Since the trade Capps–who blew a save yesterday and then took the loss an inning later–has a 2.86 ERA and is 21-for-25 converting saves. And the similarities go even further:

                  IP      ERA     SV     BS     SO/9     BB/9     HR
Rauch then        38     3.05     21      4      6.3      2.1      3
Capps since       44     2.86     21      4      6.1      1.6      4

One pitcher was a career-long setup man whose stint as a fill-in closer was largely treated as a failure. One pitcher was touted as an experienced, proven, All-Star closer whose presence in the ninth inning was apparently worth giving up one of baseball’s top catching prospects. And just as their respective numbers beyond save totals suggested at the time of the deal, there’s been almost no difference between the two pitchers since the deal.

Well, except that Capps is now being paid $7.15 million by the Twins in his final season before free agency and Ramos is hitting .295/.356/.462 as the Nationals’ starting catcher at age 23. Closing is a role, not a skill, and the success rate is 75-80 percent for mediocre relievers, 80-85 percent for good relievers, and 85-90 percent for elite relievers. Paying a premium for an 80-85 percent guy just because he’d done it before was an increasingly costly error in logic for the Twins.

Madison Bumgarner diagnosed with fractured left hand

Getty Images

Giants ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner has been diagnosed with a fractured left hand, per a report from Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’ll undergo surgery on Saturday to insert pins in his pinky knuckle, adds The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, and is expected miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks in recovery before he’s cleared to throw again. In a best-case scenario, the lefty will be ready to pitch again before the All-Star break, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Bumgarner suffered the fracture during the third inning of Friday’s Cactus League game against the Royals. Whit Merrifield returned a line drive up the middle and the ball deflected off the top of Bumgarner’s pitching hand before bouncing into the infield. He chased after the ball but was unable to pick it up, and was immediately visited by manager Bruce Bochy and a team trainer before exiting the game.

The 28-year-old southpaw was gearing up for a massive comeback after losing significant playing time with an injury in 2017. During his tumultuous run with the Giants last year, he missed nearly three months on the disabled list after spraining his shoulder and bruising his ribs in a dirt bike accident. He finished the season with a 4-9 record in 17 starts and a 3.32 ERA (his first 3.00+ ERA since 2012), 1.6 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 111 innings. The Giants suffered as well; by season’s end, their pitching staff ranked seventh-worst in the National League with a cumulative 4.58 ERA and 10.1 fWAR.

This is the second massive injury the Giants’ rotation has sustained this week after right-hander Jeff Samardzija was diagnosed with a strained pectoral muscle on Thursday. “Horrible news for us,” Bochy told reporters after Friday’s game. “That’s all you can say about it. There’s nothing you can do but push on.”