JUPITER, Fla. — Here’s a sure sign of success: Kids are starting to impersonate Carter Capps’ bizarre hop-skid-and-hurl delivery.
It’s within the rules — barely — and extremely effective, producing a 100 mph fastball that makes Capps a contender to become the Miami Marlins’ closer this season.
But the 6-foot-4 right-hander doesn’t recommend anyone throw the way he does.
“Every now and then somebody says they saw a Little Leaguer trying to do it,” Capps said. “I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, please don’t let them do that.’ It’s so bad.”
Capps’ delivery drew complaints last season as he blossomed into a dominating reliever. He had 58 strikeouts in 31 innings, and his rate of 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings was the highest in the majors.
“You always find something to complain about if a guy is wearing you out,” new Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
Most of the team’s roster and roles are set as spring training begins, but Mattingly has declared an open competition for the closer job between Capps and incumbent A.J. Ramos.
“Both of those guys are outstanding,” Mattingly said. “A.J. has done the job, and Capps profiles as that guy. It’s a good problem for us.”
Ramos became a closer for the first time in 2015. He replaced a struggling Steve Cishek, now with the Seattle Mariners, in May and had 32 saves in 38 chances with an ERA of 2.30.
But Ramos understands why the Marlins would consider replacing him with Capps.
“You look at his makeup, and you see closer all over him,” Ramos said. “He has electric stuff. He’s got everything you need in the book for a closer.”
Capps, 25, is a former college catcher who was drafted as a pitcher by the Mariners. They traded him to Miami two years ago for first baseman Logan Morrison, and he blossomed last season, when he had an ERA of 1.16 in 30 games.
He attributes his improvement to his slider, which became a reliable second pitch that made him equally effective against hitters from both sides. Lefties batted .160 against Capps, righties .175.
Success intensified debate about his delivery. He appears to lunge toward the plate and drags his right toe more than a foot before releasing the ball, which leaves behind a zigzag skid mark.
While he was still at Triple-A New Orleans last April, an umpire twice ruled he threw an illegal pitch. MLB subsequently said his motion was legal.
“It was just an issue for two weeks,” Capps said. “It blew up. That’s all settled, and MLB was happy with how it turned out, and so was I.”
The fuss amused teammates, and first baseman Justin Bour learned to mimic the delivery.
“He does a really good impression,” Capps said with a smile. “He’s surprisingly fleet of foot.”
The Marlins’ biggest worry now regarding Capps is not his foot-dragging, but his elbow. He said he’s healthy now, but he missed the final two months of last season because of a sore right elbow, and sat out three months in 2014 for the same reason.
Durability concerns might be an argument to give Capps the closer’s job, Mattingly said, because regulating his usage would reduce wear on his arm.
Capps hasn’t been asked to save games since 2012, when he was in Double-A. But the closer’s job has long been his goal.
“That’s the apex as a relief pitcher,” he said. “You’re the top dog.”