Rays Pen Throws Feathers

When you think of relief pitchers, pretty much everyone thinks of hard throwers who come in and fire 95 MPH fastballs for 20 pitches or so. Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge – they all bring big fastballs to the table. This is the prototype for a reliever.

The Tampa Bay Rays don’t care about prototypes. Their bullpen has an average fastball velocity of 87.7 MPH so far this year. It’s Grant Balfour (93.7 MPH) and a bunch of soft-tossing ninnies. Troy Percival’s the only other reliever who averages above 90 MPH, and several of them are way under that line.

Brian Shouse throws an 81 MPH fastball, and he’s thrown 83% of the time. J.P. Howell checks in with his 85 MPH heater, but he’s just as likely to throw a curve or a change. Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler sit at 87-ish. Lance Cormier is averaging 88.7 MPH on his fastball.

The Rays have the token hard throwing/bad command guy, and then a bullpen full of pitchers who survive on control, movement, and deception. This is a conscious choice, too – the market for hard throwing relievers tumbled this winter, and any team who wanted to add a few for nothing had the chance.

Tampa decided they’d rather go with the softies. So far, it hasn’t exactly worked out – Percival continues to look like his career should be over and Wheeler may or may not be hurt, so the team could be shopping for a couple new bullpen arms pretty soon.

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The Royals would fall off their chairs if Joakim Soria came in and threw 95 mph fastballs. Control is the name of his game, not power. He’s never above 92, tops. If you want to call it a “good” fastball (and it is), it’s because of how he throws it and where he throws it, not because he’s blowing guys away with gas.