Capps lands in Washington

In a marriage that made sense the moment the Pirates non-tendered Matt Capps, the right-hander has inked a deal with the Nationals.

Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day

Capps being non-tendered by Pittsburgh caught some by surprise, with their general manager defending the move saying that Capps wasn’t worth what he stood to earn in arbitration… roughly $3 million.

So much for that, as Capps will ink at $3.5 million plus an additional $450,000 in incentives. The 26-year old will enter spring training the presumptive favorite to close games. Barring any late information being revealed, Washington will have the option to offer Capps arbitration after the year as the pitcher doesn’t gain free agent rights until after 2011.

While Capps suffered through an ugly season, posting a 5.80 ERA, his xFIP tells a different story. xFIP, a measure of Fielding Independent Pitching that adjusts home runs based on it being a function of fly balls per ballpark, plummets to 4.37, more in line with a career xFIP of 4.14 and ERA of 3.61.

He is renowned for his control, checking in at 1.66 over his career although 2009 inflated that number with an ugly (for him) 2.82 BB/9. Provided that Capps firms up his control, he should go back to being a more than adequate closer, especially for a young, rebuilding team like the Nationals that recently inked Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Marquis.

Given that the Pirates will likely have to pay around $2-$3 million in base salary for a replacement closer (they’ve been linked to Octavio Dotel and Kevin Gregg), I think this was a massive misfire by Neal Huntington — one of his rare misfires. Huntington is a quality general manager and I think stands a great chance (better than Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield, certainly) at turning the Pirates around, but this was a very curious decision by him. It doesn’t impact his reputation, as every manager now and then will make the wrong move. Hopefully, Huntington learns from this and doesn’t make the same mistake again.

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  1. Will Yoder said...

    The was a great deal for the Nationals and for Capps. Capps is given an opportunity to regain value on the open market, and the Nationals will have the opportunity to use him in their penn until Drew Storen is ready.

    From what I have read, Capps was offered a two year deal but turned it down from the Nationals, instead opting to take a one year deal and enter free-agency next year. I don’t think the Nationals have intentions to tender him if he is arbitration eligible (not sure about it either).

    What I imagine will happen is that Capps will find a resurgence in Washington in the first half, and the Nationals will trade him. Capps will first get a platform to succeed and then a chance to compete. The Nationals will first get the services of a very good closer, then some sort of reward in return.

    A win-win.

  2. Colin Wyers said...

    The problem with the idea of unloading a free agent to another team at the deadline is that every other team had a chance at him and passed – in other words, no other team thought he was as valuable as he did. Sure, there’s a chance that somebody will change their mind in the interim, but it’s often an outside chance at the best.

  3. Will Yoder said...

    While in most cases it might seem like the Nationals are everyone’s last option, for Capps it was actually his choice. He was courted by as many as 10 teams, picked two finalists and then chose Washington over Chicago.

    Furthermore, if Capps has a line something like a 3.20 ERA and 18 saves at the time of the deadline, and another team needs bullpen help or has an injured closer, he becomes extremely valuable. If he pitches well, I can’t imagine him not having at least some value on the trade market.

  4. MarkInDallas said...

    This is only a misstep by Huntington if Capps returns all the way back to previous success levels. Although many relievers have a year where their numbers are completely out of whack, with Capps there is a very good reason this might not be the case.

    Capps has only one effective pitch, his fastball. He’s not a 2 pitch pitcher like most other closers. He has indeed had control problems which he could very well straighten out. However, his main problem has been the movement lost on his fastball, which now makes it a very ordinary pitch instead of extraordinary.

    He gained the closer role in June 2007, and about a year later he began to have rotational arm problems which seemingly have affected his fastball movement but not velocity.

    He lost vertical and horizontal movement on the fastball both in 2008 and 2009, and his rising tRA corresponds to that movement loss very closely.

    Attempting to compensate for the loss of effectiveness of that pitch, Capps has tried to add pitches to his repertoire with little success and blames that for the loss of control of his fastball, which he has stated he will now rely on even more. Unless he regains movement on that pitch, I just don’t see hm having any success.

    Having just gone back to watch many of Capps’ 2009 outings, far from being unlucky with the defense, it could be said he was actually lucky to have achieved what meager results he did.

    Dotel, on the other hand, had terrible White Sox defense behind him, and pitched much more effectively. If Huntington actually can get Dotel at around $3M, I think that is a much superior deal than signing Capps for $3.5M.

    Of course, time will tell whether he was correct or not.

  5. Bob Wagner said...

    Capps would not have been a free agent had the Pirates tendered him a contract…as he has a little over 4 years service time. He won’t hit automatic free agency until after the 2011 season. Everything I’ve seen is $3.5M plus incentives (425K)…about what he was reportedly asking in arbitration.

    Many closers have one season in their careers where their numbers are totally out of whack with the remainder of their career. Or, in Brad Lidge’s case, 2 seasons. If Capps returns to his 2006-2008 performance level…the Nationals are getting off pretty easy.

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