Carter Capps: This Year’s Dellin Betances?

One upshot of the strikeout-heavy environment we currently have in the MLB is the rise of middle relievers. Usually you have to be logging or close to logging saves to get a sniff on the fantasy landscape, especially in mixed leagues, but elite-level setup men are starting to make a dent even without proximity to saves. Holds have become more prevalent in leagues which automatically gives them some enhanced value, but even if we are just talking a standard 5×5 league with 10-12 teams, there are some RPs who are too good sit on the wire.

Last year we saw Dellin Betances and Wade Davis develop into must-own players despite a whopping four saves between them. Betances was New York’s super-reliever setting up David Robertson, logging 90 innings in just 70 appearances with a 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP plus an eye-popping 135 strikeouts. Davis tried starting his first year in KC and it just wasn’t working. He’d failed at starting with TB, too, spent his final season with the Rays in the bullpen (70 IP of 2.43 ERA). He dwarfed those figures in 2014: 1.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 109 strikeouts in 72 IP not to mention nine vulture wins and three of those aforementioned four saves.

Coming into 2015, Betances was thought to be the frontrunner for the closer’s role in NYY so he was drafted everywhere, and quite highly. Davis was still behind Greg Holland, but that didn’t stop him from getting plenty of draft-day attention (plenty relative to what setup men normally get, of course). Neither has disappointed in 2015 so I don’t think anyone is upset about what they paid on draft day, but the real value is in finding the next iterations of these guys and scooping them for free.

Early on it looked like A.J. Ramos and Carson Smith could become those guys, but then Steve Cishek and Fernando Rodney opened the door to the closer’s role and gave both all-formats value. Ramos has run with it, but Seattle seems determined to get Rodney back in the role which could put Smith back in a Betances-Davis kind of role. However, the fantasy community’s lack of faith in Rodney means Smith won’t be as widely available as the guy who is angling to be this year’s top super-setup man: Carter Capps.

Capps arrived in Miami via a 1-for-1 trade that sent Logan Morrison the other way to Seattle. The 24-year old flamethrower has pitched in the majors for each of the last three seasons amassing 104 innings of a 4.83 ERA and 1.50 WHIP with a 26% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate. A 1.8 HR/9 in 59 innings back in 2013 (resulting in a 5.49 ERA) has left the ERA elevated, but the raw talent has been obvious throughout his short MLB career. He has been much better in 2015.

It takes a lot for a reliever’s ERA and WHIP to jump off the page. We recognize greatness of a sub-2.00 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP, but it’s not rare so that alone won’t automatically get you noticed. It’s not the ratios for Capps, it’s the skills. His strikeout rate has skyrocketed to an obscene 50% in 23 innings while maintaining the career-best 6% walk rate we saw last year. His 5.1 H/9 isn’t driven by some minuscule BABIP, either.

His .314 mark is a career-best (.354 career), but given his stuff it seems his previous work is the outlier and this year’s figure is more in line with his talent. He averages 98 MPH on his fastball, third-fastest among relievers behind only Aroldis Chapman and Arquimedes Caminero, and backs it up with a ridiculous breaking ball (we say slider, Brooks says curve; let’s just agree it’s amazing) in the mid-80s that has held batters to a .366 OPS with a 74% (!!!) strikeout rate in 34 plate appearances.

What?!

That strikeout rate is 10 percentage points higher than any other pitch in the game with at least 20 batters faced (there are a couple pitches at 65% including Blake Treinen’s slider and Robertson’s curve). It has also become a groundball weapon for Capps which is a new component to his game. He still isn’t a groundball specialist by any stretch as his 43% rate this year is a career-best, but the breaker generates grounders at a 71% clip.

Carlos Gonzalez, Ben Paulsen, and Michael Cuddyer are the only three guys with a hit off the pitch this year, including a longball for Cargo (a cheapie in Coors). Only four other guys have even put the pitch in play (three groundouts and a fielder’s choice) this year. The only reason that Capps hasn’t gotten more attention this year is because he basically missed the first month and a half sitting in Triple-A. He had one appearance on April 13th, but he was immediately sent back down before returning on May 20th.

The Marlins haven’t been afraid to let Capps go beyond an inning and continuing to do so will be a key to him being a Betances-level setup man. He has five multi-inning appearances within his 20 total outings including ones of three and two innings (during which he logged 10 Ks). Betances was special in this field last year. He topped an inning in half of his 70 outings, an MLB-high ahead of Adam Warren and Dan Otero tied at 29 apiece.

Even with the late start to his season, Capp’s 13 appearances of two or more strikeouts is tied for the seventh-highest total. With ties, there are 10 guys ahead of him (including the aforementioned Treinen & Robertson with their standout pitches) See the full list here. Removing RP-eligibles who started throughout 2014 (Garrett Richards and Tanner Roark in this case), Betances and Davis were 11th and 14th among relievers last year on the ESPN Player Rater.

Capps is going to have a hard time doing anything like that this year because his innings volume just won’t be there even if the Marlins regularly use him for more than an inning, but he can definitely be that kind of reliever (a top 15-type) the rest of the way, especially as the Marlins continue to trust him in higher leverage situations where he may be able to snake some wins to go with those strikeouts and amazing ratios.

Maybe you just lost Stephen Strasburg and you’re struggling to replace him. Unless there is an obvious quality starter on the wire, you might consider Capps. He will slowly but surely start to repair the ratios that Strasburg damaged while also making up for the strikeouts, at least by rate. Strasburg’s 9.3 K/9 rate wasn’t bad, but it was a whole strikeout off of his career mark. Capps is popping 17.2 strikeouts per nine innings right now. This is a deeper league gambit for sure. 10-team mixed leagues will still have viable starting arms available, but anything deeper might not have a standout option. At the very least, Capps is a great add for daily transactions leagues where you can slot him in for one of your starters who isn’t throwing that day and that’s for all formats.

If you need pitching help, consider Capps. He’s amazing.





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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DeQuarium Lumpkin
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DeQuarium Lumpkin

I’m in a 12-team mixed league (SV, no Holds) that only has two RP spots and daily lineup moves. Between 27-30 RPs are rostered.

Is a guy like Capps or Davis useful in a league format like this, or is the replacement level too high? If so, how do I use them? Do I have to monitor the usage of my rostered closers and try to take a best guess for when they’re unavailable?