The Marlins’ Elite: A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps

Yesterday, we looked in on one of the top closer-setup tandems outside of the Bronx. Zach Britton and Darren O’Day are the best at what they do. As it turns out, the Marlins also have a couple elite relievers who are the very best at something – A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps.

This week, Jeff Sullivan helpfully wrote about both Ramos and Capps on the main site. Jeff is good at this writing thing. You know that. Per Sullivan, Ramos had the highest swinging strike rate on an off speed pitch, minimum 200 pitches. Capps had the highest swinging strike rate on an off speed pitch, minimum 100 pitches. Interesante?

After Steve Cishek pooped the proverbial bed, Ramos stepped in as the Marlins closer. His tenure was not without controversy. A slump from late July through most of August would have cost him his job if Capps had remained healthy.

The overall numbers were still very favorable. Jeff chronicled the elite changeup. Ramos is the rare reliever with a full repertoire. He mostly features a fastball, slider, and change. He’ll also mix in an occasional curve, cutter, or sinker.

When Ramos runs into trouble, it’s with his fastball. The pitch is merely adequate which makes him a somewhat uncommon closer in this age of blazing heat. He still has velocity – 93 mph worth of it. He just doesn’t get the best results with the pitch.

Ramos PU

As you can see, he’s fairly predictable with his fastball usage. He mixes things up just enough that hitters can’t regularly prey upon the heater. Against righties, he throws a lot of first pitch sliders. Lefties have to watch out for his ridiculous changeup in any count, but they can mostly eliminate the slider.

While his changeup stands out with its 35 percent swinging strike rate, his slider also rates as above average with a 20 percent swinging strike rate. On a per pitch basis, neither pitch is quite as devastating as Britton’s curve ball (the one we discussed yesterday).

Since we know Ramos dabbled with a sinker and cutter, we should allow for the possibility that he’ll discover a more effective fastball. Until he does, he’s always going to be at risk for the occasional meltdown. When he slumped last season, he had four multi-run innings in the space of 15 games. What do you want to bet his fastball was to blame in those games? (hint, it was)

Make no mistake, Ramos is a very good relief pitcher despite his ordinary fastball. On most rosters, he could weather a typical relief slump without losing his job. The Marlins don’t have a normal roster.

Sitting in the second chair is Capps. He’s arguably the best reliever in all of baseball. He throws just two pitches, and they’re both elite. Ridiculously so. His fastball averages 99 mph. With his deceptive lounge to the plate and excellent extension, it’s perceived to average about 101 mph. Sometimes it’s even faster.

The pitch has a 18 percent swinging strike rate, and it’s very hard to put into play. When they swung, hitters fouled it off 41 percent of the time. They whiffed 35 percent of the time. That leaves about 24 percent of swings as a ball in play. What little contact he allowed lacked punch (.068 ISO).

As Mr. Sullivan highlighted, his curve is the special pitch. In a vacuum it doesn’t look like an 80 grade pitch. His elite fastball allows the breaking ball to play up. It’s rare to see any pitch induce a 41 percent swinging strike rate. On a per swing basis, Capps’ curve narrowly outperformed Britton’s (still the one we discussed yesterday). Capps also used his curve twice as often as Britton despite pitching about half the innings.

That brings us to the elephant in the room. Or shall I say the elbowphant in the room. Ouch, I know. Capps missed the latter portion of the season with elbow pain. Tests didn’t reveal substantial damage, but there’s still cause for concern. Elite velocity always comes with an increased risk for Tommy John surgery. Elbow discomfort is often an obvious precursor. Hopefully, Capps was shut down in time to recover for the 2016 season. Often, once pain is felt, it’s already too late. We’ll see how this plays out.

When somebody is uniquely good at something – as Ramos and Capps were in 2015 – it’s natural to expect continued success. Natural, but not statistically correct. Ramos’ changeup and Capps’ everything were outliers. And outliers usually regress to the mean. Not always, but usually. Don’t be surprised if both pitchers are just a little more…normal.

The good news is we know why these pitchers dominated. Ramos kept his change down in the zone, making it more deceptive. This seems highly repeatable. Maybe he won’t produce a 35 percent swinging strike rate, but I’d bet on another top performance. His changeup succeeds in part because his fastball is hittable.

With Capps, it just seems a matter of time before somebody puts a barrel on a fastball. Even Aroldis Chapman allows the occasional extra base hit. Capps’ fastball allowed just one double and one home run. His elite velocity should keep him in the discussion for best reliever in baseball.





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gbaked
Member

Is a $1 Ramos worth hanging onto in a league where closers are routinely overpriced? Or is Capps taking over too big a risk?

jdbolick
Member

I’ll give a hesitant “yes.” There’s nothing in Ramos’ profile that suggests impending doom, but I get where you’re coming from regarding the uncertainty. With so many bullpens having multiple options, it’s hard to put a lot of faith into anyone who hasn’t received a long-term commitment from their team. Two weeks of bad luck on balls in play could theoretically flip Ramos and Capps.