Over at his website in the subscriber-only section, Bill James has a long screed about the notion of "continuation" in sports, which of course Bill considers a scourge. It’s worst in the NBA and the NFL, Bill says. But he also rails against the ruling that invalidated Mookie Betts’ superheroic catch last week — after watching the play a few times, I agree with Bill — but saves his strongest opprobrium for a certain Marlins relief pitcher…
That’s ridiculous, but in terms of damaging, that’s nothing compared to the Carter Capps ruling. I’m sure that 99% of you know what this is about, but just to be on the safe side, Carter Capps has developed a unique pitching motion in which he takes a crow hop forward in the middle of his delivery and throws the pitch from several feet in front of the pitcher’s mound. And the commissioner’s office has ruled, inexplicably, that he is allowed to do this, based on some stupid "continuous action" theory.
First of all, the people who debate this keep saying that Capps is throwing the pitch from 58 feet. 58 feet, my ass. It’s more like 55 feet. Half the league is throwing pitches from 58 feet anymore; Capps has just taken it to a new level. But if the Carter Capps ruling is allowed to stand, it will profoundly change the game of baseball — much in the way that the "continuation" rules changed the NBA in the 1970s. What it will do is, it will add to major league baseball somewhere between 100 and 200 strikeouts per team per season. There were 37,000 strikeouts in the major leagues last year. If the Carter Capps ruling is allowed to stand, that number is going to go way up — and the league batting average is going to go way down.
Capps is throwing a clearly and absolutely illegal pitch — but he is deriving a tremendous advantage from it, and striking out a very large number of hitters. If he gets by with that, why won’t the next guy start doing the same thing — and the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy? They will. In five years everybody in the league is going to be pitching from 55 feet.
First, if what Capps is doing is clearly and absoutely illegal, I don’t think he would be allowed to keep doing it. What’s absolutely clear is that the rules weren’t intended to permit what he’s doing. They just don’t specifically prohibit it. Not specifically enough, anyway.
But of course what he’s doing should be specifically prohibited, absolutely. Just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s what we’re talking about:
Leaving aside "fairness" and any related claptrap, this is simply a matter of practicality. Strikeouts make the game less interesting, and so you can’t just let every pitcher in the majors throw from 55 feet away. Capps is allowed to do that because there’s a glitch in the system that seemingly can’t be repaired in the middle of the season. But fixing the glitch next winter might literally be the most important thing that Commissioner Manfred does.