It’s almost too fitting that a former closer who lost his status on his team because of health issues should be given a chance to rise to the top of a group of relievers nicknamed the Bullpen Mafia, but I doubt that’s the kind of reference the Cleveland Indians were thinking of when they signed Matt Capps to a minor league deal.
That Capps, who has a 3.52/1.14 ERA/WHIP and 138 career saves to his name, has fallen to this point at just age-29 is remarkable in itself. We’ve seen relievers like Joe Nathan and Ryan Madson come through very serious injuries to major pay days with big league clubs, but that’s a benefit of the doubt that Capps has not been afforded.
The Indians, though, are probably not too worried about that.
Capps has been reasonably steady and durable over his career, even if may not have the kind of strikeout prowess that puts his name in the elite category of closers; and sure, it’s been a couple of years since the peak of his career – a 1.2 fWAR, 42 save season in 2010 – but the decline could be attributed to the fact that he has dealt with arm and shoulder issues over the last two seasons, before finally needing to go under the knife in 2012.
If he can prove in spring training that he’s healthy, he’ll join a deep group of Indians relievers that’s headed by Chris Perez (who could be traded this season, but that’s another story) and Vinnie Pestano, and eventually find himself in the type of high-leverage situations that he’s been used to pitching in over the last few years.
There will be work to do before that happens, of course. Proving his health is easier said than done, and the Indians will no doubt be keeping a keen eye on Capp’s velocity during his Spring Training tryout. It’s no coincidence that he was at his best in 2010 when his average fastball velocity was at 94 mph, and that it has declined to 92.4 over the last two seasons is reflected in his on-field results in the form of a plummeting strikeout rate.
That should, however, be a thing in the past for Capps, assuming that his surgery and recovery went right. If he can show that to be the case, the Indians will have added another hard-throwing reliever to their venerable Mafia at a bargain rate.