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How is Carter Capps’ delivery legal?

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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.

 

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

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After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.