PORT ST. LUCIE — It’s a heck of a thing to be your defining narrative.
“He had one of the most unique deliveries that we’ve ever seen in the game, and he happened to throw 100 miles per hour doing it,” Ricky Meinhold, the Mets’ assistant pitching coach and minor-league pitching coordinator, said of the club’s recently hired pitching coach and coordinator for its complex here.
Do you remember Carter Capps? In 2015, he dominated over 31 innings with the Marlins, tallying a 1.16 ERA with 58 strikeouts and seven walks, with a four-seam fastball that averaged 98.7 miler per hour as per Baseball Savant. And, as his boss Meinhold noted, he did this with a delivery so unusual — a “hop step” in which he hopped off the pitching rubber, then unleashed his pitch — that Major League Baseball ultimately tweaked its rulebook to outlaw it.
That’s the guy who can now be found roaming the fields behind Clover Park, his mission not at all to teach such funkiness to his young charges but rather to leverage his memorable experience into improving them.
“It’s just kind of what I’m known for, and I’m OK with it,” Capps said, in a telephone interview, of his headline-making mechanics. “I’m frustrated that it ended my career. But that fuels the fire now.”
A third-round pick by the Mariners in the 2011 amatuer draft, Capps, a product of the University of Mount Olive, had suffered a few minor tears of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Those ailments compelled the creation of the hop step, or whatever you want to call it.
“It came about pretty organically,” Capps said. “I had a lot of pain in my arm. My arm wasn’t getting up on time, so I thought, ‘How do I buy my arm more time? I drive down with my leg.’ I didn’t have a good understanding of force production.”
A right elbow strain shut down Capps for the final two months of 2015, and in spring training of 2016, “I tore (the UCL) off the bone,” he said, necessitating Tommy John surgery. By the time he returned in August 2017 with the Padres (who had acquired him in a trade during his rehabilitation), MLB had added to its Rule 5.07 (which covers pitching deliveries) this passage: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch.”
“I tried to make the changes they wanted,” Capps said, yet neither the fastball velocity (which plummeted to an average of 92.7 mph) nor the results (a 6.57 ERA in 11 games) returned. He retired at age 28 after spending all of 2018 in the Padres’ minor-league system and landed a job at Driveline Baseball, the renowned pitching workshop in Washington State that utilizes cutting-edge technology and analytics.
“For a while, I was obviously upset (about the end of his career),” Capps said. “Then I thought, ‘How can I make sure this doesn’t happen with anybody else? Maybe I could get into coaching.” Driveline, he realized, could educate him to all of the modern metrics.
When The Post asked Capps how much he learned about biomechanics and analytics at Driveline, the 30-year-old replied, “How much time do you have?” He offered the quick-and-dirty version: “I know quite a bit about it. You can have a basic biomechanical understanding, but how is it applicable?
“If we know a guy doesn’t create the right hip-shoulder separation, that’s great. But a) Can we fix it? and b) Will it help him be a better baseball player? Can we marry the two?”
That becomes his mission with the Mets. “When I played, we had advanced scouting reports, but not all of it is actionable data,” Capps said. “You need that person in the clubhouse that says, ‘This is what that is.’ I don’t need a CSD telling me this and that. I want to be that guy explaining it.”
With the Mets, Meinhold said, Capps will serve as the pitching coach for their Rookie level and help fully transform the complex into an “academy” similar to what the Mets have in the Dominican Republic, creating synergy between the two places.
“He gets instant cache,” Meinhold said of Capps. “He played in the big leagues and he worked at Driveline. These kids’ ears pop up when they hear that. …He knows a lot of things about a lot of things. We don’t have that many guys who came from the private sector AND played in the big leagues.
“…I think he’s going to help push the needle forward. I’m really excited for him to impact our organization.”
“I want to help out as many people as I can,” said Capps, who acknowledged that he’d like to be a big-league pitching coach someday. If less unique than a hop-step delivery, it makes for a nice extension to his defining narrative.