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Community Projection Review: Matt Capps

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PLAYER POS. COMMUNITY ZiPS ACTUAL
Matt Capps RP 73.3 IP, 63 K, 17 BB, 2.93 ERA
90 IP, 68 K, 15 BB, 3.40 ERA 53.7 IP, 39 K, 5 BB, 3.02 ERA

The community did pretty well here; it didn't foresee that Capps would miss time, but it still pwned ZiPS, which did an even poorer job of foreseeing Capps' injury problems and projected that Capps would appear in a remarkable 90 games. Capps has been a workhorse in the past, but no one in baseball has pitched in at least 90 games since Salomon Torres did it in 2006 and only eight pitchers in the history of baseball have done it; this year's appearance leader, Pedro Feliciano, was in 86, and appearance leaders are often specialists like him. Capps has never really been a specialist, and the saves he earned in 2007 should have told ZiPS that. I have no idea what ZiPS was thinking there--that's just a brain fart for a system that's normally pretty reasonable.

What's especially weird about projecting 90 appearances for Capps is that one would think his high appearance totals in 2006 and, to a lesser extent, 2007 would have made Capps less likely to do it in 2008, not more. Of course, that's speculation on my part, since so few pitchers in their early 20s have done what Jim Tracy had Capps do.

Tracy's treatment of Capps in the 2006 season, in particular, was incredibly irresponsible; Capps' 85 appearances that year as a 22-year-old were the 25th most in a season by a pitcher, of any age, in the history of baseball. The only other pitchers in their early 20s to throw nearly that many games were the 21-year-old Oscar Villareal (who pitched 86 games as a 21-year-old in 2003, then spent the next two years with more forearm, elbow, shoulder and hip injuries than an octogenarian after a fall down a flight of stairs) and  Mitch Williams, who appeared in 85 games as a 22-year-old in 1987 and never got better or pitched in more than 76 games in a season after that.

In other words, Tracy's use of Capps was thoroughly bizarre and downright historic.  Perhaps it's no wonder, then, that ZiPS throws up its hands. I'm certainly not directly blaming Tracy for the injury, as I don't know of any studies of correlations between appearances (as opposed to innings) and injuries, and even if there were they probably wouldn't have much to say about Capps, who poses a really extreme example. It may well Capps' shoulder problems this year are just a coincidence.

The point, though, is this: why? There's no excuse for Tracy's behavior. Even when the 2003 Angels had an even better reliever than Capps in Francisco Rodriguez and a nail-biter of a pennant race against the Athletics, they only let Rodriguez  pitch in 69 games. The Pirates weren't in a pennant race in 2006. Not even close. In Tracy's defense, Capps stayed healthy in 2007 and much of 2008, but that doesn't excuse Tracy's behavior.

Anyway, no one really nailed this one; the only person who got close in the innings pitched department was Scoreboard, who thought Capps would rack up 20 walks. Probably the best projection overall belonged to Thegetupkids who, despite what appears to be a complete lack of musical taste (just kidding) guessed that Capps would post a 3.00 ERA to go with 68 strikeouts and ten walks. These numbers might have ended up pretty accurate if Capps had played the whole season.