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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.

 

Yankees trade Sonny Gray to the Reds

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The deal was much talked about all weekend and now the deal is done: The Cincinnati Reds gave acquired starter Sonny Gray and lefty Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 competitive balance pick.

The key to making the deal happen: Gray agreeing to a a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Reds will likewise hold a $12 million club option for 2023. The deal had been struck and a window granted through close of business today to get Gray to agree to the extension and, obviously, he has.

The Reds will get a pitcher coming off of a bad season in which he posted a disappointing 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances. He was hammered particularly hard in Yankee Stadium but pitched better on the road. Great American Ballpark is not a great pitcher’s park itself but any change of scenery would be nice for Gray, who had become much unwanted and unloved in New York. In Cincinnati he has the assurance of a spot in the rotation and, even better for him, he will be reunited with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, who joined new manager David Bell’s Reds staff earlier this offseason. If he bounces back even a little bit, the Reds will have a useful starter at a below market price for four years. If he doesn’t, well, they haven’t exactly gone bankrupt taking the chance.

The Reds will also get Reiver Sanmartin, 22, who started in the Rangers system before being traded to the Yankees. He’s a soft-tosser who figures to be a reliever if he makes the big leagues. He played at four different levels last season, with one game at Double-A and the rest below that, posting a composite 2.80 ERA in 10 starts and 13 overall appearances while striking out 7.8 batters per nine.

The Yankees will get Shed Long, who is ranked as the Reds’ seventh best prospect. The 23-year old second baseman hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A in 2018 and has hit very close to that overall line for his entire six-year minor league career. He strikes out a bit and may not stick at second base long term, shifting to a corner outfield slot perhaps, but he’s a legitimate prospect.

The Reds get another starter with some upside. The Yankees get rid of a problem and gain a prospect and a draft pick. Sonny Gray gets some job and financial security at a time when it is not at all clear what his future holds. Not a bad baseball trade.

UPDATE: Welp, the Yankees don’t have a prospect anymore. They just traded long to the Mariners for outfielder Josh Stowers. Stowers was a second-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s 21 and batted .260/.380/.410 with five homers and 20 steals over 58 games in Short-Season ball in 2018. He’s ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect, but now he’s New York bound.