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May 4, 2011

Prospectus Q&A

Matt Capps

by David Laurila

Matt Capps is closing in Minnesota, and he’s doing so with a more advanced approach than he brought to the mound when he first broke into the big leagues with the Pirates in 2005. The 27-year-old right-hander has always been a hard thrower, but more recently he has become a better student of the game, utilizing video to gain a better understanding of his mechanics. Capps, who logged 42 saves last season between stints with the Nationals and Twins, sat down with Baseball Prospectus in spring training.

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David Laurila: How much do you use video?

Matt Capps: The last couple of years, video is something I’ve really started to lean on quite a bit. I look at different things, like past at-bats against a hitter. I also try to watch myself, especially [in spring training]. I go back and watch videos of myself to kind of see what I’m doing now compared to then. I want to make sure that I’m on the same page mechanically and where I need to be.

As the season starts to roll along, you go back and begin to watch teams that you’ve faced in the past to see what worked and what didn’t work. You see if maybe you can pick up on something they’re doing now that they weren’t then, or vice versa, that you can possibly exploit and take advantage of.

DL: Does video ever tell you something about yourself you weren’t aware of?

MC: Absolutely. That’s the thing with me. I use video more to watch myself to make sure I have consistency with my delivery and what I’m doing with the baseball. That’s opposed to how a lot of hitters will watch what a pitcher is trying to do to them. I just want to make sure that my body is in line and everything is firing at the same time. I try to make sure that I’m not picking up any bad habits along the way.

DL: When you’re out of sync, what is typically at fault?

MC: I’m usually breaking down my back side, or I’m jumping too soon, or both. They kind of go hand-in-hand with each other. If I break down my back side, I tend to leap toward home plate. I get a little fast in my body and my arm can’t catch up. That’s usually the first thing I watch for, to see what my back knee and my hip are doing.

There are times where I’ll go a couple of weeks without looking at video. If everything feels good and I feel like I’m doing with the baseball what I want to do with it, then I try not to overanalyze things. I think that in today’s era, not just in the game, but in the world as a whole, there is so much access to everything that we tend to overanalyze. That can maybe cause as many problems as it does good.

DL: Can you often tell that something is amiss without going to video?

MC: Yeah, you can feel it. Most of us here have been playing the game since we were 7 or 8 years old, so there are things that kind of become natural. You can tell when something is off, and if something isn’t firing right. That’s when the video comes in handy. You kind of have an idea of where it’s at, but you can’t place it, so you go to watch some video and all of a sudden what you’re doing wrong jumps out at you.

We’re so results oriented that if things are going well—if the results are there—it gets to the point that we don’t really care how we do it. That’s not always right.

DL: Do you typically look at video on your own, or with a pitching coach?

MC: Sometimes, if something is really messed up, I ask for help. I go to the video by myself first, and if I can’t pick anything out I’ll grab a coach or even another teammate—somebody who has seen me throw a lot—to see if anything jumps out at them. We try to pinpoint it from there.

DL: How hard is to make a mechanical correction?

MC: It depends on what it is. If you’re trying to completely break down and redevelop a whole windup, a whole delivery, it can be very tough. I’ve been through small things like just lowering my leg kick and getting a little more drive in my hips, and things like that sometimes come a little easier. Other things, like what you’re doing with your hands, or going over your head—creating movement like that—sometimes that can be a little tougher.

DL: Do you see value in data that shows how much your ball is moving?

MC: I think it would be kind of neat to see that and know that, but on the other hand it can get to the point of paralysis by analysis. There are some things I maybe don’t want to know. If my fastball is straight as an arrow, I don’t really want to know that because I’m trying to manipulate the ball and move it. I want to have confidence in what it’s doing, I don’t want something to tell me it’s not.

That said, maybe knowing would let me know I need to make an adjustment. I guess it depends on the results. Hitters will usually tell you before any kind of data will tell you whether it’s too straight or not.

DL: I’ve heard it suggested that guys who grew up playing video games are more receptive to studying video than older players. Do you agree?

MC: I’m 27 years old and have probably played five video games in my whole life. But maybe. I do use video, but not nearly as much as some guys. It does seem like some of the younger guys who are coming up are more prone to go right to the video, as opposed to trying to figure things out on their own. I guess I could see how that would be a fair assessment.

DL: In today’s day and age, it’s easy to go online and see what people are writing about you. Is it difficult to resist that temptation?

MC: Not really. You just stay away from those websites. During the offseason is really the only time I read the newspaper and things like that. During the season, I don’t read the newspaper or blogs. If you do, you can get both sides of the coin and either start thinking that you’re better than you are or that you’re absolutely terrible. I know how I’m doing. I don’t need to read something to tell me.

I feel that I’m my worse critic. There’s nobody that’s going to tell me I had a worse game than I’m going to tell myself. I don’t tend to get arrogant or boastful, so I also don’t need anyone to tell me that I did a great job. I know what I’m doing.

DL: That said, is ego not important to a player’s success?

MC: I don’t know. I guess there has to be a little bit of arrogance and confidence in yourself. But as far as ego, I don’t think you need to have a big ego to be successful. Number 7 over there [Joe Mauer] doesn’t have an ego and he’s one of the best in the game. There’s a big difference between ego and confidence.

DL: As we speak, where are you in regards to your career?

MC: Hopefully near the beginning. Hopefully I have a ways to go. I have a little over five years in the big leagues. I didn’t really start pitching a whole lot until my junior and senior years in high school, so I feel like I’m really only beginning my career.

 I think that I mix my pitches better than I did in the past. When I first came up, I was going to challenge everybody with a fastball. That’s not necessarily something I’ve gone away from, but I’m a lot smarter about when to do it. Regardless of my role—if I’m closing or setting up—I need to be smart out there. Being prepared is a big part of that.

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