Given that Padres reliever Carter Capps missed the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery — and given that he’s only managed to pitch more than 20 games in a season twice since debuting in 2012 — I suppose this may be a largely hypothetical question. But he’s healthy now and he’s in Padres camp throwing baseballs and stuff, so it’s bound to come up again.
The question: how is this delivery, which features him hopping forward not once but twice and then delivering the ball from what I’d estimate to be about 54 feet, even legal?
The answer, as we learned when he first unleashed this delivery in 2015, is that it is technically legal, actually. He caught flak for it in the minors, with umpires calling it illegal for “disengaging the rubber” but Major League Baseball has deemed it kosher. Why? Because the rules about where your feet are with respect to the rubber in the stretch — picking them up off of the rubber once you come set — only deal with motions toward a base runner and the intent to deceive him in an effort to pick him off. Capps was told by MLB that as long as he’s moving forward, toward the batter, and not getting too much air, he’s OK.
Which is idiotic. There’s a reason the pitching rubber is 60’6″ away from home plate. Not because someone just pulled that number out of their hind end, but because it has been deemed, over the years, to be a fair placement which neither disadvantages a pitcher nor a hitter to too great a degree. It’s a convention that could’ve been changed at any time but which has stood up, with the implicit agreement that it would be bad for hitters to let pitchers pitch from 30 feet and and bad for pitchers to make them pitch from 90, for example. Effective velocity, you know. Distance matters. We see this in practice with tall pitchers. Assuming they can get their mechanics worked out, tall ones have a tremendous advantage over shorter ones, in large part because they simply release the ball closer to a hitter than a short one does thanks to a longer stride and longer arms.
We can’t legislate how tall pitchers can be so we allow for some variation in the distance a ball has to travel, but we do have rules about how far away from the plate they have to be for a reason. Capps has figured out a way to pitch from 54 or 55 feet. On one season of doing it he pitched quite well. Maybe it was because he’s simply good, but maybe it’s because he has created for himself an unfair advantage.
I presume that injury risk — Capps hurt himself last year, though we don’t know if the delivery is why — will keep most pitchers form ever trying this. But even if no one else does, it’s unfair to let any pitcher pitch from closer to the plate than the rules allow. Letting Capps get around that with a crow hop seems to violate the spirit of the rule and I don’t think it should be legal.