Monday Mets: That Familia Feeling

Jeurys Familia

If you read this headline and thought that this would be an extensive anti-Jeurys Familia rant by a frustrated fan, I’m sorry to disappoint. There are plenty of outlets for such feelings online, or in bars, coffee shops, construction sites, train rides, etc. Similarly, if you are expecting a lengthy defense of the beleaguered reliever, you too are in the wrong place. There are fewer outlets for you, but they’re there somewhere.

Whether you like it or not, Jeurys Familia is a member of the Mets bullpen, except for when he’s hurt. As with many players on the Mets, the definition of his role is continuously evolving. So the conversation surrounding him should be about how best to use him. More importantly perhaps, much consideration needs to be given to how not to use him.

In case you don’t know or don’t remember, here’s a little history on Familia. His first full season was 2014 when he was brought up to be the setup man for closer Jenrry Mejia (the extra “r” was for “roids” apparently). While Mejia was talented and showed promise, many scouts pinpointed Familia as the eventual closer for the team. When Mejia was suspended prior to the 2015 season for PED use, Familia was called upon to become the Mets closer. Familia answered the call by registering 43 saves and a league-leading 65 games finished. The following season he led the league in GF’s again, with 67, and also led the league in saves with 51, while earning his first (and so far, only) spot on the All-Star team. Sadly, things took something of a downturn from there. Injuries, a domestic violence charge (eventually dismissed), and inconsistent execution led to him being traded to the Oakland A’s before last year’s trade deadline. When the Mets re-signed him this offseason to return to his setup roots, this time for the newly obtained Edwin Diaz, it seemed like a potentially good opportunity for him to regain some of what made him successful in the first place.

Like most of the moves the Mets made this offseason, things haven’t really worked out as planned for Familia. Inconsistent execution, as well as a relatively minor injury, have played made this a frustrating return so far.

Here’s the thing, for anyone who follows the Mets, this is probably one of the least-surprising turn of events this season. That’s not because all Mets fans are pessimistic; most are, perhaps, but certainly not all. What’s not surprising about Familia’s output so far has as much to do with the way he’s handled as it does with the way he handles himself.

So, here are two basic, but essential, rules for Mickey Callaway & Dave Eiland, as well as any future manager & pitching coach that has Familia on their team:

  1. Do not let Jeurys Familia pitch two days in a row. – When Terry Collins was the manager of the Mets, he relied on his closer pretty regularly. As I mentioned earlier, in 2015 and 2016, Familia led the league in games finished. While this is a good stat within the context of the season, it does not always bode well for a pitcher’s career. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon led the NL in GF’s. Subsequently,  in 2013, his velocity dropped by 2 MPH and he later admitted to playing most of the season with an injured hip. Similarly, Greg Holland was the NL’s leader in GF’s in 2017, and suffered a horrendous 2018. Last year’s NL leader in GF’s, Wade Davis, is currently on the DL with an oblique injury. It’s not an automatic that GF leaders will suffer disappointing circumstances – in fact, last year’s AL leader is the aforementioned Diaz. Still, it’s hard to ignore the impact that it’s had on Familia. Collins eventually learned the dangers of overusing Familia, although it was too little too late. So far this season, Familia has pitched on consecutive days on 5 occasions, including 4 games in 5 days from May 20th-May 24th. Familia’s ERA in those 5 occasions this season, a total of 11.2 innings, is 12.60. Full disclosure, some of those runs were given up in the first of the consecutive games. Still, it’s obvious that the notion of counting on Familia to pitch effectively on consecutive days has come to an end. Perhaps it’s that the Callaway doesn’t want to believe it, or perhaps his other options are much any more reliable, but if the Mets continue to play with this particular fire, they will continue to get burned. Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t make it any less true.
  2. Do net let Jeurys Familia pitch in more than one inning. – This one may be a bit harder on the team, and perhaps a bit harder to prove, but I’ll try. First let me explain what this means. In the current evolution of baseball, it’s rare that a reliever pitches 2 innings or more, and usually if he does, it’s because he’s been a starter at some point in his career. What makes it challenging in Familia’s case is that I’m referring to the situations in which Familia is brought in to get the last out of an inning. He can still do that, often with relative ease. And when he does that, he should be removed from the game, and prepare for his next game (which as mentioned earlier, should not be the Mets next game). In other words, the moment that Familia enters the dugout after pitching, his potential effectiveness from that point on is compromised. It’s sort of like when a new car is driven off the dealer’s lot it immediately goes down in value. Here are some examples: In the 4/6 game against the Nationals, Familia faced one better in the top of the 7th and got him out. He returned to start the 8th and gave up three runs on two HRs. The Mets eventually got the win (Familia actually got credit for the win), but it was far from earned. The next time he pitched in two innings in a game was April 19th, against the Cardinals. Familia pitched a 1-2-3 7th inning, and even got the first batter in the 8th. Then he gave up a double to Yadier Molina and was removed. Molina eventually scored. The next example of this was on April 30th against the Reds. A double-play enabled Familia to face only 3 hitters in the 8th. Then he came out for the 9th, struck out the first 2 hitters, and was one out away from a save, before he walked a batter, gave up three straight singles, and blew the save. Familia pitched in two different innings again on May 21st and this past weekend (June 1st) and yielded runs both times. So, in actuality, this was easy to prove – every single time this season that Familia has pitched in more than one inning he’s given up runs.

Admittedly, this is an incredibly narrow look at the Mets vast bullpen issues. I am not suggesting that adhering to the Familia rules will make the rest of the bullpen better. Still, it might. Just as Diaz, as the closer, is limited to very specific situations, Familia’s availability should be handled with its own set of parameters. And by leveraging the best out of Familia, while also defining the needs from the other members of the team’s bullpen, they would likely be putting themselves in a better position. Really though, at this point, what do they have to lose?