The Miami Marlins have nine important questions they want to answer, and we have covered eight of the questions so far. The last one, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, involves the Marlins' latest Major League pickup. Carter Capps is a 23-year-old reliever with a hot fastball and a lot of promise, and the Marlins are hoping that the player acquired from the Logan Morrison trade will bring extra stability and upside to the team's effective bullpen. But given Capps's struggle of a 2013 season, is he ready to take on more responsibility for Miami?
Here is what Joe Frisaro had to say about Capps.
9. Will Capps lock down the eighth? Trading a popular player like Logan Morrison wasn't easy. In return, the Marlins are hopeful they've brought in a dominating reliever. Capps joins Miami after being part of the Mariners' bullpen the past two seasons. The 23-year-old was highly coveted. He boasts a fastball that has reached triple digits to go along with a deceptive delivery. If Capps becomes what the Marlins hope, the right-hander could handle the eighth inning, setting up Cishek in the ninth.
He does not deem us with an answer, but the premise is there: Capps has promise, but will he deliver on that promise in 2014?
It's worth mentioning that last year's numbers on the surface looked bad for Capps. He had a 5.49 ERA and 4.73 FIP, so even with his .365 BABIP taken out of the picture, his performance was not impressive. But it only takes one look at his numbers beyond that to see a good pitcher. Capps struck out 24.4 percent of batters faced last season, and he walked a reasonable 8.4 percent of them. These are really reasonable numbers for a reliever; consider that Marlins fans are seeing potential in an older player like A.J. Ramos because he whiffed 25.4 percent of his batters faced while walking a lot more of them. Capps's 12.9 percent swinging strike rate and 72.6 percent contact rate would have rated better than any Marlins regular reliever from 2013.
And this is not a mirage from a crafty veteran or someone who lacks stuff. Capps's fastball average 95.5 mph last season, which would have been better than any Marlins reliever from last year. Capps's slider is a legitimate second pitch that can get righties out, as it was a run better than the league average per 100 pitches thrown over the course of the regular season. Capps has an odd delivery that could be deceptive, as his start point is low and close to the body and appears hidden to hitters. All of those factors may make him tough to read and do not give hitters an easy time adjusting.
It is not as though his weaknesses are not obvious. Last year, Capps had two obvious problems. The first was home runs. He gave up 12 homers in 59 innings and did so in Safeco Park. Safeco's dimensions were moved in last season, which made it play a little more neutral than it had been in the past. Still, Capps's 40 percent ground ball rate does not indicate that he should have a severe home run problem like a Kevin Slowey might have. His SIERA and xFIP numbers, both designed to normalize home run rates based on batted ball distribution rather than use pure home run rates, expected an ERA based on his performance to be closer to a 3.23 or 3.56 mark respectively. Those would still not be great numbers from a reliever, but they would be comparable to or better than everyone Miami has other than Steve Cishek.
The other problem Capps has is more prominent. He boasts a terrible platoon split, having given up a .319/.414/.543 (.410 wOBA) batting line to left-handed hitters versus just a .262/.313/.404 (.313 wOBA) batting line versus righties. A closer examination of the peripherals shows that Capps dominates righties with a 29.2 percent strikeout rate versus a 5.6 percent walk rate, leading to a 2.69 career FIP against them. Meanwhile, he has walked 13.5 percent of lefties faced and yielded seven homers in 165 batters faced (4.2 percent rate), indicating that a lot of his homer issues have come versus lefties.
The good news is that Miami does not necessarily need him versus lefties. Mike Dunn will return in 2014 and will handle lefties during the later innings, and Capps's expected seventh or eighth inning role should be protected to a decent degree; it is not as though Miami will depend on him to close out the ninth. Capps needs to turn his changeup into an effective pitch if he is going to become an eventual late-innings cog, but the early results are very strong. If Capps never figures out lefties, he and Ramos will hang around the league as righty-dominant relievers with good stuff who cannot compete in later innings. If he can, his ceiling is closer to a Cishek-like closer than anyone else on the Marlins' roster.
Is Capps ready for the eighth inning? If Dunn can help protect him versus lefties, absolutely. But those platoon concerns are just enough to convince me that he is not fully ready for a versatile, catch-all eighth inning role. But with Ramos also on board, he does not necessarily have to be ready.
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