Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tip your Capps to Matt

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Matt Capps has participated in this scene 20 times already this season.
It's easy to forget this right now, because he's been one of the best closers in baseball the last two months, but Matt Capps was dumped by the Pirates in December.

Thrown out with the trash. Kicked to the curb. Non-tendered by a franchise that hasn't been good enough to play a meaningful baseball game since Barry Bonds tried to throw out Sid Bream in the 1992 NLCS.

All Capps has done since is post a major-league-leading 20 saves, closing out an astounding 69 percent of the Nationals' victories so far this year. (The record for such things, by the way, is 70.3 percent -- 45 of 64 -- by Brian Harvey of the expansion 1993 Marlins.)

"It's a good feeling," Capps said. "But it's one of those stats that it's not even possible without the right team. All of these guys have played great, they've given me lots of opportunities. It's nice to have 20, but it would been even better to have 23 or 24."

In pitching the ninth the last two nights to secure wins both for Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, Capps has added to his overall total as well as toppled the club that dumped him twice in a span of 25 hours.

"They're all nice," the soft-spoken right-hander said. "But to able to go out and get two against a team that didn't want you any more and show them you're still capable of doing your job, it's got a little extra sentiment to it."

That was about as much spite as Capps was willing to reveal tonight, though his bullpen mates believe there's more there under the surface.

"I think he's more happy about it than he will let on," Tyler Walker said. "The circumstances there kind of speak for themselves. Hopefully he'll get No. 3 tomorrow against them."

It's tough to think about where the Nationals would be right now if not for Capps. Think back to all those blown saves last season by Joel Hanrahan (who happens to be Pittsburgh's setup man now) and others. And think about how many close games the Nats have already played this season (tonight's 7-5 win was their MLB-leading 36th game decided by two runs or less).

Sure, Capps hit a bit of a bump in the road last week, blowing three saves in six days. But he really didn't pitch that poorly, and he has quickly righted the ship to leave everyone in NatsTown confident in his abilities every time he trots in from the bullpen.

Really, there's plenty of reason to be confident in the Nationals' bullpen as a whole these days. All seven current members hold ERAs under 4.06, and three hold ERAs under 2.00 (Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Doug Slaten).

Even the guy who has generally been considered the least-effective member of the club, Walker, owns a 3.94 ERA after making a key contribution to tonight's victory.

Walker is the guy who usually gets the ball when the Nationals are trailing, but tonight Jim Riggleman needed him with the game tied 5-5, when laboring starter John Lannan couldn't get through the fifth inning. Turns out Walker's 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief was as important as anything else that took place. He was the bridge that got the game to Storen, Clippard and Capps.

"You get your opportunity in the game, you have to make the most of it," Walker said of his rare moment as the center of attention inside the Nats' clubhouse. "Middle relievers, if you're on SportsCenter, it's usually a bad thing. It's a home run or a bases-clearing double or something. You don't want to be on SportsCenter. You want to keep it nice and quiet and stay out of the spotlight and get your job done."

This was not a well-played game tonight. Lannan did not pitch well. The defense committed two more errors. The lineup came through with a couple of clutch hits but couldn't deliver the knockout blow to Pirates right-hander Brad Lincoln in his MLB debut.

Credit for this win, then, goes to the bullpen. Walker, Storen, Clippard and Capps combined to toss 4 1/3 innings of two-hit ball.

"You can't say enough about the job Walker did tonight, as he's done all year, coming into different roles," Capps said. "Same thing with Clippard and Storen. Those guys threw well. It was a group effort. We tried to go out and pick everybody up, and we did a nice job tonight."

You can't help but wonder if over in the visitors' clubhouse, a Pirates organization that didn't think Capps was worth keeping last winter was kicking itself for a decision gone horribly wrong.


SonnyG10 said...

I didn't think about the fact that the Pirates dumped Capps during the games, but what sweet revenge.

Drew8 said...

As Al Davis would say, "Just win, baby."


Here's a catch-up question about the draft. It looks like the Nats took four shortstops with their first 15 picks -- three in their top 10. Does that signify any hedging on Desmond or Espinosa, or is it a function of trusting the board and taking the best player available?

Anonymous said...

I mean, the pirates became a dumping ground for under-performing nats players-- joel hanrahan, lastings milledge, ryan church. But I suppose it's not really I dump cause we got some great players! Nyjer, sean burnett, capps. They should reconsider who they have in their front office...

meixler said...


I think that most teams put their most athletic players at shortstop, and in professional ball its not uncommon for guys to change position based on the needs of the team... so I wouldn't read too much into anything. The Nationals drafting of several shortstops just means they were getting some good ballplayers.

K.D. said...

Mark, Appreciate you acknowledging Walker, like Batista he sometimes gets put in a no-win situation. Great job by him and the rest of the bullpen.

Andrew said...

Mark Z. wrote...And think about how many close games the Nats have already played this season (tonight's 7-5 win was their MLB-leading 36th game decided by two runs or less).

This reminds me of the 2005 Nats, and it usually means your closer is overused just like Chad Cordero was in 2005.

These close games seem to be a case and point to me that the team plays to the level of their competition.

They have to blow away teams like the Astros and Pirates and they just aren't.

Jaxpo Nat said...

Disagree with your statement that "everyone in Nats Town" is "confident in his ability." He still seems way too hittable to me. I have absolutely zero confidence in him holding a one-run lead. Two or three-run leads I feel a little better about. Let's be realistic here. Sure, he was the victim of some poor defense, but he has given up a lot of hard hits. Even last night there were some well-hit balls against him. He's still not a true closer to me. 36 hits in 29 innings is unacceptable.

Avar said...

"a franchise that hasn't been good enough to play a meaningful baseball game since Barry Bonds tried to throw out Sid Bream in the 1992 NLCS."

Had a 2.5 hour commute but that great line helped get the day back on track. Good stuff.

Grandstander said...

Capps just needs to get us 2/3 of the way through the season until Storen takes over. If he had just a bit more consistency, we would have a truly amazing 7-8-9 combo. Too bad our starters almost never make it through the 6th...

Jaxpo Nat said...

Indeed, looking through every current closer in baseball, there are only TWO who have given up more hits per inning (Wagner and Jenks, who both strike out more batters). And only 5 closers have higher WHIPs. To me, this means that Capps has been a pretty lucky man, not necessarily a good closer.

His luck wasn't there last week and he blew three games. I want a closer who can rely on "stuff," not luck.

Anonymous said...

Walker walked two batters in 1.1 innings, including the lead off batter in the 6th. Facing the worst offense in the majors, he really shouldn't have been afraid to throw strikes. Double plays made his outing look effective, but relievers who walk batters make managers sick.

natsfan1a said...

Atta boy, Matt. btw, I noticed last night that Capps had shaved off his goatee, but I couldn't recall whether he still had it the night before. Wonder whether it was shaved before or after he got back on the save train.

A DC Wonk said...

It seems to me that Clippard is the best reliever we have (and certainly, he has the best stats)

BTW, Mark, or anyone, after the terrible year that Capps had last year, what is it that Rizzo saw in Capps that he thought he'd be much better this year?

Jaxpo Nat said...

"What is it that Rizzo saw in Capps that he thought he'd be much better this year?"

Hate to rain on this parade (again), but there are some numbers that cannot be ignored. When Capps had his good years ('07 and '08), his Hits/9ip were 7.8 and 7.3. His HR/9ip were 0.6 and 0.8. Good numbers.

When Capps had his ugly year ('09), those numbers jumped to 12.1 h/9 and 1.7 hr/9 respectively. Bad numbers.

Know what they are so far this year? 11.0 h/9 and 1.2 hr/9. Not quite as bad as '09, but still far worse than his good years, and closer to his bad '09 than good '08.

Bottom line: Rizzo didn't see anything, because Capps, other than the actual save total (which has a lot to do with the teams offense - the real difference for Capps), really is pitching only marginally better than his disastrous '09 campaign. And he's getting worse lately, not better. Rough seas ahead I fear.

Anonymous said...

Rizzo didn't see anything, because Capps, other than the actual save total (which has a lot to do with the teams offense - the real difference for Capps), really is pitching only marginally better than his disastrous '09 campaign. And he's getting worse lately, not better. Rough seas ahead I fear.

With Peralta going gang busters in Syracuse plus Storen looks like Rizzo has Riggleman covered ... if **he** decides to go with them. Even if Capps continues his downward trend, this time they have legitimate high performing replacements. Not cast-offs signed from the waiver wire.

Capps may look better in the bullpen as a 7th inning guy at some point.

Carl in 309 said...

Capps looked really strong closing out the Strasburg game, and certainly good enough last night (when I thought the entire team looked like they were still exhausted from the prior evening’s festivities; the ballpark was so quiet you could almost hear the organist banging on the electronic keys last night). But we all have this anxiety about him when he’s called in (that may be in the nature of the beast—I have the same feeling when J. Papelbon goes in for Boston). And Jaxpo Nat and Grandstander give voice to that concern (I was certainly yelling at Capps on Sunday afternoon when the Reds came back).

Still, whether luck or skill, the guy has performed for us. And I think that is the test for us—did we ultimately win the game (for now, winning ugly is way better than losing). His 20 saves leads the National League; the 3 nearest guys have 16 (probably as much a factor of our games as his skills). Among NL relievers, Capps blown save count (4) is not the highest—Trevor Hoffman and Clippard own that status with 5 each. Among NL relievers with true save responsibilities, Francisco Cordero and Chad Qualls have the same number of BLSVs; Francisco Rodriguez, Health Bell, Carlos Marmol, and Matt Lindstrom each have 3 BLSVs. While no AL pitcher has blown 4 or more saves this year, a lot have blown three, including at least 2 guys whose job it is to close games (and 15 is high number in the junior league—three guys, including Jon Rauch, own that mark).

Speaking of Rauch, I still wonder why we let him go. While not bullet proof for us, he has 15 saves and has blown only two other chances. Always struck me as a quality guy (plus he has one career homer which I think I remember hearing he hit off of Roger Clemens!).


Yes, he gives up hits and blew some saves last week which was tough to watch.

He also wasn't helped by the umps and the fielders behind him.

Right now, his 20 saves and converted saves is the most important thing right now as this team needs wins and confidence. Glad he got back on track.

With the lighter schedule for June, the offense has to start steamrolling some teams and get back above .500

Doc said...

Nice analysis Jaxpo. I kinda figured those stats were there, I was just reluctant to admit it. Capps brings very inconsistent stuff, even on his Save Days.

Wagner is more consistent; he always seems to bring his 'A' fastball. I think Capps may have more command of more pitches, even if they are inconsistent from game to game. Storen has been totally consistent.

The good news last night was that Capps got the last batter out on the slider that he was having trouble with.

Anonymous said...

"Storen has been totally consistent."

Storen has pitched what, 11 or 12 innings total in his entire major league career? He's a rookie. Don't forget that. His future as a closer won't begin until at least 2011, and probably later than that. That's true no matter what Capps does.

Section 222 said...

@Carl309 -- We didn't let Rauch go, we traded him for Bonifacio, who became Willingham (and Olson, but whatever). At the time alot of fans were sorry to see him go, but it seemed like a good move since he has some value and probably wasn't going to be part of the "first great Nats team." I think I'd rather have Willingham than Rauch, as decent as he's been this year, so I still consider it a good move. But it was cool having the tallest player in the major, I will admit.

The Great Unwashed said...

Hey Grandstander, don't go anointing Storen the closer just yet. His sample size is too small (about 10 innings) to put him there. And is it just me, or does he seem to get deep into counts? Ultimately he gets batters out but he's making things a bit too interesting in my opinion. He'll get there, but let him get his feet wet first.

Carl in 309, excellent analysis.

Cwj said...

No fan of any team is ever comfortable with their closer (maybe a couple of exceptions).
Capps' stats (fun to say :) ) swung from great to poor in one bad week. He is a proven, middle of the road closer. I still expect him to finish the season as closer.
If he does will be Clippard. Storen will not and should not be rushed into that role this year.

Anonymous said...

Everyone should remember that almost all of Capps 5 blown saves came with "who?" behind the plate, NOT Pudge.

Remember, too, that the worst of his bad streak, the Berkman game, started the inning with a totally uncharacteristic error on a pickup (not a throw) by Zim, which would have unnerved anyone who needed the confidence from the defense behind him.

And Tuesday night, his best appearance since his bad streak, came with NOT Who behind the plate.

Maybe his 09 performance is his current norm with mediocre catching/pitchcalling -- but maybe that's why he makes a good pair with Pudge. Maybe in Nieves' starts, Riggleman should bring in Pudge as a 9th inning defensive replacement.

Carl in 309 said...

Anon @ 4:44--

I've wondered about the contrast in Pudge's handling of the staff--including relievers--and that of our other catchers. Some observation in the post-Strasburg reporting haze I thought alluded to this topic. Hard to improve on Pudge's experience from the Nats perspective. You raise an excellent point.

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