Buster Olney: Nationals Nearing Deal with Matt Capps

Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 23, 2009

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 6:  Matt Capps #55 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during Opening Day on April 6, 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Pirates beat the Cardinals 6-4. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

According to Buster Olney of ESPN.com , the Washington Nationals are about to sign former Pirates' closer Matt Capps to a one-year deal. Capps' agent, Paul Kinsler, is denying any deal is close, but Olney says "multiple sources" are confirming the story.


Why would Capps, who was courted by a dozen teams, want to play for Washington?


The reason is simple—Matt Capps still wants to be a closer, and the Nationals are one of a handful of teams that would use him in that capacity.


However, after three solid years as the Pirates closer, he had an off year in 2009 and some teams may shy away from giving him the money he wants after he posted a 5.80 ERA.


But let’s take a closer look at his numbers and see what that inflated ERA means. Here are his average yearly stats from 2006-2008:


Record: 15-11 (total)

ERA: 3.04

Saves: 40 (total)

Hits per-nine: 8.1

Walks per-nine: 1.4

Strikeouts per-nine: 6.7

Batting average-against: .241

On base percentage-against: .373

Slugging average-against: .351

Saves/opportunities: 40/57 (70 percent)

Inherited runs allowed to score: 37 percent


From top to bottom, that is a solid closer’s resume, especially the walks (1.4 per nine).


Now let’s take a look at his 2009 numbers, which may surprise you. I’ve italicized the stats you might find interesting:


Record: 4-8

ERA: 5.80

Saves: 27

Hits per-nine: 12.1

Walks per-nine: 2.8

Strikeouts per-nine: 7.6

Batting average-against: .324

On base percent-against: .373

Slugging percent-against: .533

Saves/opportunities: 27/32 (80 percent)

Inherited runs allowed to score: 57 percent


It doesn’t take long to see what caused the problems for Capps in 2009. He allowed four more hits per-nine innings, which caused his inherited runners allowed to jump a full 20 percent.


He came into the game, he gave up a couple of extra hits, and those inherited runners scored.


That said, his save percentage jumped from 70 to 80 percent.


So he gave up more hits and allowed more runners to score in 2009. What was different last year for Matt Capps?


His right elbow.


He missed nine games due to elbow problems and was listed as day-to-day for several weeks. If his elbow is sound—and all reports are that it is—then Capps would be the Nationals’ closer in 2010 if they can sign him.


For comparison purposes, former Nationals’ Chad Cordero had a career save percentage of 84 percent (basically, Capps blew five more games over three years than did Cordero). He walked 1.5 more batters per-nine innings but also struck out two more batters per-nine.


Capps, just 26, was a seventh-round pick by the Pirates in 2002 as a Georgia high schooler. He arrived in Pittsburgh just three years later and at age 21 became the team’s setup man. He moved into the closer’s rose in 2007 and saved 67 games in three years.


Capps has a fastball that consistently hits 95 mph with movement. He has a great mound presence and terrific command of his pitches. He relies on his fastball because his secondary pitches aren’t nearly as good.


Though the Nationals are saying he must earn the closer's job, I have little doubt that it's his job to lose.


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