The buzz regarding Carter Capps' transformation into the baseball equivalent of Techmo Bowl Bo Jackson, thanks to a borderline illegal delivery, has mercifully cooled off with the flurry of activity at the trade deadline over the last week. No matter what you think of his truly bizarre style, it’s impossible to overlook his meteoric rise from relative obscurity to being baseball’s most-feared reliever.

The 24-year-old is the just latest relief monster to rise from the depths of the vast fantasy ocean, emerging as a rich source of strikeouts for fantasy owners, following in the wake of other electric setup men like Dellin Betances, Wade Davis, and Ken Giles, this season. Capps has struck out an absurd 49 percent of the batters he’s faced this season and leads the majors with 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Filthy.

According to the most-advanced predictive pitching metric available on Baseball Prospectus, Contextual FIP (cFIP), Capps (1.16 ERA with a 58-to-7 K:BB ratio over 31 innings) has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball this year, and it’s not all that close according to the advanced stats.

In case you are not familiar with it, here is a basic overview of Contextual FIP (cFIP) courtesy of the statistic’s creator, Baseball Prospectus’ very own Jonathan Judge, from his post at The Hardball Times earlier this year:

Building on the mixed-model approach we developed at Baseball Prospectus for Called Strikes above Average (CSAA), cFIP seeks to provide this missing context. Each underlying event in the FIP equation — be it a home run, strikeout, walk, or hit by pitch — is modeled to adjust for, as appropriate, the effect of the individual batter, catcher and umpire; the stadium; home-field advantage; umpire bias; and the handedness relationship between pitcher and batter present during each individual plate appearance.

cFIP has multiple advantages: (1) it is more predictive than other pitcher estimators, especially in smaller samples; (2) it is calculated on a batter-faced basis, rather than innings pitched; (3) it is park-, league-, and opposition-adjusted; and (4) in a particularly important development, cFIP is equally accurate as a descriptive and predictive statistic.

The last characteristic makes cFIP something we have not seen before: a true pitcher quality estimator that actually approximates the pitcher’s current ability.

To put Capps' league-best cFIP, which currently stands at 38, in greater perspective, consider that the only pitchers in the last decade to record lower single-season cFIP’s (minimum 50 innings pitched) are Aroldis Chapman (36 in 2014) and Craig Kimbrel (21 in 2012). It’s impossible to compare Capps with true ace starters like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale, who dominate over a much larger volume of innings (which is far more valuable), but in the limited sample of innings Capps has worked, nobody has been better on a per-inning basis this season.

What makes Capps rise so compelling is the unorthodox (and borderline illegal) delivery that has transformed him into a force of nature virtually overnight. If you’ve been too busy binge-watching “Wet Hot American Summer” on Netflix (shame on you) and somehow haven’t seen it for yourself, check it out.

Basically, Capps’ delivery utilizes a crow hop, which not only enables him to release his upper-90s fastball from several feet in front of the pitcher's mound, but it gives hitters even less time to react. According to exclusive research by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh, using MLB Advanced Media’s Statcast system earlier this spring, Capps is releasing the ball from approximately 52 feet thanks to the extension he receives from his unusual delivery, which “inflates his perceived velocity by almost 3.5 mph.”

I had the opportunity to see Capps in person at Fenway Park earlier this summer and his unique delivery didn’t disappoint live. If you think it’s tough to watch, just imagine stepping into the batter's box as I watched Xander Bogaerts do in early July with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning against Miami. After watching three straight pitches out of the zone to start the at-bat, Bogaerts fouled off four consecutive triple-digit (perceived velocity) fastballs, before lining a heater back up the middle for a go-ahead three-run single. According to’s Ian Browne, the final pitch Capps released had a perceived velocity of 104.96 mph. Bogaerts is one of the few batters to have any semblance of success against Capps this season, and it took him several tries to even put a pitch in play.

Surprisingly, the main weapon for Capps isn’t his fastball, despite its ungodly velocity. The PITCHf/x data on Brooks Baseball classifies Capps breaking ball as a curveball, but it could easily be labeled a slider from its speed and movement. Regardless, the results are what matter and they have been truly unreal. Opposing hitters have managed just a .118 true average (TAv) and have swung and missed on Capps curveball 76 percent of the time this season. On a per-pitch basis, he trails only Zach Britton’s deuce for prestigious deadliest hammer honors this year.

The biggest variable for Capps going forward that will ultimately determine his long-term fantasy value will be health. His delivery is nightmare inducing from a scouting standpoint, as our own Chris Crawford pointed out on Twitter earlier this week.

Capps missed three months with elbow issues last season, and after exiting his latest outing early with elbow stiffness over the weekend, was just placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow strain. According to all reports, it appears as though Capps has avoided serious injury for now, but his funky delivery puts him at an increased risk risk of elbow problems going forward.

Predicting the future (health-wise) for Capps, or any other pitcher for that matter, is a fool’s errand. However, the number of innings fantasy owners can reasonably project for Capps going forward, beyond the current campaign, has a bigger impact on his fantasy value than anything else, especially if he isn’t racking up saves to boost his stock. Hedging against the risk of injury with a conservative innings projection is a wise decision given what we know about Capps injury history and the risk going forward.

PECOTA’s long-term forecast doesn’t anticipate Capps repeating his super-human strikeout rate next season, rather it’s regressing him to 10 strikeouts-per-nine (with a 3.09 ERA). However, it does project 66 innings of work, which isn’t unreasonable over a full-season if he can stay healthy. If we use that as our baseline/floor that would still make him one of the most valuable non-closing relief pitchers in fantasy baseball. If we split the difference between his PECOTA projection and current strikeout rate, we end up closer to 95 strikeouts over the same number of innings next year. That would put him closer statistically to the numbers someone like Wade Davis posted (109 strikeouts in 71 innings with three saves) when he was the 23rd-best pitcher in fantasy, worth close to $16 a year ago.

According to Mike Gianella’s latest Rotisserie-style in-season valuations, published just before the All-Star break last month, Capps was on pace to earn $11 already this season (prior to the elbow injury), so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be worth a double-digit price-tag in re-draft formats next season. As far as keeper and dynasty formats go, no matter what point in the contention cycle you find your current roster, Capps is a fascinating gamble to roll the dice on.

The one-of-a-kind delivery is both a blessing and a curse. It's enabled him to post gaudy statistics (which should continue as long as MLB doesn’t force him to alter his delivery) in a small sample, but it also may lead to the ultimate destruction of his elbow. Is he destined to end up like an expensive Ferrari that never gets out of the garage? Or will he be able to somehow avoid the elbow problems that have plagued his career and fulfill his destiny as baseballs most terrifying closer? We don’t have enough evidence to make that call right now, but given what we have seen so far and the questions swirling around both the legality and viability of his delivery, there isn’t a more intriguing reliever to dream on when it comes to long-term keeper and dynasty formats.

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I have to imagine MLB will be cracking down on this style of delivery during the off season.
According to the Marlins, Capps has been given assurance by MLB that his delivery won't be called an "illegal pitch". MLB has already made an official ruling to allow it. That came early in the spring after Capps had issues in the minors with umpires calling it an illegal pitch. So I would doubt that MLB officials arbitrarily decide (whether its over the offseason or at any point in the future) to ban it and force Capps to alter his delivery. At the very least, Capps is pushing the limits of what should be legally allowed, but MLB (at least for now) is going to allow him to continue doing it.
I wonder, with his success, if we would begin to see other players coming through the minors try to replicate his delivery. I could see MLB clarifying the rule on pitcher deliveries and allowing him to be grandfathered in.
A decision by MLB to reverse their position on the delivery wouldn't be "arbitrary", it would be based on a full year of data showing that it provides an dramatically unfair competitive advantage. The horse isn't so far out of the barn that it cannot be corralled back in. What MLB can't do is wait until a bunch of copycat guys who were otherwise destined for middle relief start striking out two out of every three batters they face.
Imagine if Chris Young started doing this.