Jeurys Familia Is Still a Great Closer
One thing that is strange about narratives is that they don’t stay static. Rather, narratives are dynamic and are often change wildly with a strong recency bias.
Last year, the narrative was the Mets blew Game 4 of the World Series because Terry Collins didn’t go to his closer to start the eighth inning. Instead, Collins brought in Tyler Clippard, who proceed to walk consecutive batters after retiring the first batter he faced. With runners on first and second with one out, Collins finally went to Jeurys Familia. Familia induced a ground ball that went under Daniel Murphy‘s glove loading the bases. Two singles later, the Mets 3-2 lead turned into a 5-3 deficit.
In Game 5, again Collins was blamed for the loss because he did not go to Familia. After eight absolutely brilliant innings, Collins allowed Matt Harvey to talk himself into pitching the ninth inning. After a leadoff walk and an RBI double, Collins brought in Familia to now protect a 2-1 with a runner in scoring position and no outs. Familia induced the groundout he needed for the second out. On the play, Eric Hosmer famously tried to score from second while Lucas Duda infamously threw the ball away.
With that, Familia technically blew saves in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series. The main reason why Familia blew these saves is his manager brought him into difficult situations and his defense abandoned him. Now, all of a sudden, the narrative has shifted to he’s a choke artist.
In the Wild Card Game, Familia took the loss. It started with a Brandon Crawford opposite field double to left-center. On the play, Yoenis Cespedes, perhaps due to his lingering quad injury, made no effort whatsoever to cut the ball off before it went all the way to the wall. Familia then struck out Angel Pagan, who had been attempting to bunt Crawford to third. Familia then had Joe Panik 2-2, but he couldn’t put him away. With Panik walking, there were runners on first and second with one out. Familia got a sinker up in the zone, and Conor Gillaspie hit a three run go-ahead homer. From there, Familia got out of the inning, but it was too late. After the third out, he was booed off the Citi Field mound.
That’s right. Mets fans booed one of the best closers in the game off the mound. Worse yet, the narrative became Familia can’t pitch the big one anymore.
That’s nonsense. In the World Series, if Murphy fields a ground ball, or Duda makes an even average throw home, Familia saves both of those games. For what it’s worth, Familia had only allowed one earned run in the 2015 postseason, and neither were in that game.
Furthermore, focusing on those games ignores the work he did to get the Mets to the World Series. In Game 1 of the NLDS, Familia came on in the eighth inning to bail out Clippard. Familia would have to go 1.1 innings to get the save. In the Game 5 clincher, Familia pitched the final two innings not allowing a baserunner to send the Mets to the NLCS. In Game 1 of the NLCS, he came on for Harvey, and he pitched the final 1.1 innings to earn the save. Between the NLDS and NLCS, Familia was a perfect 5/5 in save opportunities with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.414 WHIP. This run is conveniently ignore in discussing how clutch Familia is.
What is also ignored is the phenomenal work Familia has done since taking over and becoming the Mets closer. Yes, his work has been phenomenal.
Over the past three seasons, Familia has thrown more innings than any other reliever in baseball. Over the past two seasons, he leads all major league closers in appearances, innings pitched, games finished, saves, and multi-inning saves. Between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he has made 154 appearances pitching 155.2 innings recording 94 saves with a 2.20 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP. The advanced stats also indicate he’s been great as he has had a 2.56 FIP and an 180 ERA+. In the 2016 regular season, he only allowed one home run.
During the 2015 season, when the Mets were not getting any offense due to a mixture of injuries and poor performances, the Mets bullpen had no margin for error. From the time David Wright got injured until the Mets acquired Cespedes at the trade deadline, Familia made 42 appearances pitching 45.2 innings. In that time frame, he recorded 24 saves with a 1.97 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP. Each and every one of those 24 games he saved was important as for much of the summer, the Mets season was on the brink of disaster. If not for Familia, who had been unexpectedly thrust into the role due to the injuries and suspension of Jenrry Mejia, the Mets may not have lasted in the NL East race.
All Familia would do for an encore this season was record the most saves by a Mets closer in a single season. His 51 saves would also stand as the single season record for a Dominican born pitcher. For a Mets team that tied with the Giants in the standings for the Wild Card. By the Mets winning the season series against the Giants, they had the right to host the Wild Card Game. In the three games he pitched against the Giants, Familia recorded two saves without allowing an earned run. Without Familia, the Mets play the Wild Card Game at AT&T Park.
The Mets also finished one game up on the St. Louis Cardinals, each and every single one of these saves were important. If Familia falters just one or two times more, the Mets miss the postseason.
Overall, if Familia is not the best closer in baseball, he’s in the conversation. He’s also more durable than the other closers, and as we have seen with his work throughout the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he is clutch. His defense failing him, and his making one bad pitch to Gillaspie doesn’t change that. It’s a given that he will be the Mets closer next season. And he should be, because if the Mets have any designs on getting back to the postseason, they are going to need Familia to repeat his successes from the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Then in the 2017 season he can go out there and remind everyone just how clutch he is.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online