One of the helpful things about doing my preseason power rankings is that I study each team's roster in depth, look at some numbers and maybe learn a little something. I ran this list in the Miami Marlins comments:
Most total pitches by relievers of 95-plus mph in 2015:
1. Marlins: 1,917
2. Yankees: 1,843
3. Cubs: 1,817
4. Dodgers, 1,802
5. Blue Jays: 1,792
6. Royals: 1,780
7. Reds: 1,731
8. Rockies: 1,616
9. Phillies: 1,609
10. Rangers: 1,492
We all know the importance of the bullpen in today's game. And while fastball velocity alone isn't a proxy for success, teams crave power relievers. The Astros threw the second-fewest pitches of 95-plus so they went out and acquired hard-throwing Ken Giles from the Phillies. The Red Sox ranked 27th in 95-plus pitches and traded for Craig Kimbrel. The Yankees, who already had Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, added Aroldis Chapman.
Were you surprised, however, to see the Marlins top this list? To be clear, the Marlins had a mediocre bullpen in 2015. They were 14th in the majors with a 3.66 ERA, 12th in strikeout rate and 12th in batting average allowed. But what they possess is the potential to have an outstanding bullpen. Here are the individual Marlins relievers still on the team, the number of 95-plus pitches each threw and their overall average fastball velocity:
Brian Ellington: 321 (96.9)
Carter Capps: 286 (98.0)
Bryan Morris: 281 (94.9)
Kyle Barraclough: 208 (95.5)
Mike Dunn: 206 (94.6)
Jose Urena: 82 (94.9)
A.J. Ramos: 26 (92.6)
That's a lot of power arms that new manager Don Mattingly will have to choose from. The soft-tosser of the bunch is Ramos, who has a 2.62 career ERA and .186 batting average allowed over three seasons. Keep in mind that the Marlins led the majors in this category even though some of these guys didn't spend much time in the majors (Sam Dyson, traded to the Rangers, actually led their relievers in number of 95-plus pitches). Capps pitched just 31 innings, as he missed the final two months with an elbow strain. Ellington and Barraclough both debuted in August, and Urena split time between starting, Triple-A and the bullpen, making just 11 relief appearances.
Obviously Capps' health will be a big key. His numbers were staggering: 31 innings, 58 strikeouts, seven walks, and just 18 hits allowed. He struck out nearly half the batters he faced -- 49.2 percent, the third-highest rate of all time and the highest in 2015 by 7.5 percent (over Chapman). Capps throws 98 mph and does it with the most unique delivery in the game, that little hop off the rubber that makes his perceived velocity 101.7 mph. Here he is in action.
Ellington and Barraclough will be the key guys in the middle innings, alongside Dunn, the lone lefty. Ellington didn't dominate in his initial trial, with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 25 innings, but he struck out 48 in 44.1 innings in the minors with just 28 hits allowed. Barraclough allowed just 12 hits in 24.1 innings with 30 strikeouts but walked 18. He came over from the Cardinals for Steve Cishek and skipped Triple-A after starting 2015 in Class A. It's all about throwing strikes for him, a problem throughout his minor league career.
Another important addition is the hiring of Jim Benedict away from the Pirates as the team's vice president of pitching development. He'll work with the major league staff and pitching coach Juan Nieves as well as the minor leaguers. He and Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage were certainly successful at building outstanding bullpens in Pittsburgh.
It all adds up to a group that could produce one of the best pens in the game. If you think about surprise teams, one thing they often have in common is excellent bullpens. The rise of the Pirates and Royals in recent years, for example, has been facilitated by terrific bullpens. When the Orioles went from 69 to 93 wins in 2012, the bullpen blew only one lead in the eighth or ninth inning all season (and helped them go 16-2 in extra innings). The Astros went from 70 to 86 wins last year as their bullpen ERA decreased from 4.80 (last in the majors) to 3.27 (sixth).
The Marlins have sleeper potential. They need a healthy Giancarlo Stanton and a much better year from Marcell Ozuna. They'll need the back of the rotation to step up. They're already discussing an innings limit for Jose Fernandez in case they're in a playoff chase. If they are, it will be because the bullpen will be blowing a lot of 95-plus fastballs past opposing hitters.