Should Jeurys Familia Return To Closer’s Role?
With each appearance, it is becoming increasingly clear the Mets can no longer trust Edwin Diaz in the closer’s role until he figures things out. This isn’t even hypothetical. This has been how the Mets have operated with him not getting one save opportunity in August.
You cannot blame the Mets with how Diaz has pitched. This is the worst he has pitched in the Majors. He has already tied a career worst with five blown saves. The 11 homers and 49 hits against him this year are also a career worst. His six losses ties a career worst. His current 5.60 ERA, 74 ERA+, 4.48 FIP, 1.467 WHIP, 9.8 H/9, 2.2 HR/9, and 3.4 BB/9 are all on pace for career worsts for what is increasingly looking like a career worst season.
As alluded to earlier, the Mets have responded to Diaz’s struggles by removing him as the full-time closer. In fact, the Mets last save opportunity, the only one in August, went to Seth Lugo. Lugo and Diaz have split the last four save opportunities.
With respect to Lugo, the natural inclination is to just make him the closer. However, by doing so, the Mets are limiting what makes him great. As evidenced on Saturday, he is someone who can come into a game and give you six big outs. During the course of the season, the Mets have deployed him anywhere from the fifth inning to the ninth inning.
Lugo’s versatility is what makes him such a big weapon out of the bullpen. By saving him for the eighth or ninth, you are severely limiting how you use your bullpen. It also leaves the Mets trusting lesser relievers in the highest leverage situations in the game. That’s not how to best deploy Lugo or to handle the bullpen.
That said, Lugo is the only reliever the Mets should trust in a big spot and/or to close games. If the Mets decide to install him as a closer, the question becomes who closes those games he’s not available because he just pitched over an inning the previous night. Seeing what we saw this weekend, maybe the answer to that question is Jeurys Familia.
Like Diaz, Familia has been having a career worst season, and we were wondering if he would ever return to form. In order to help him, the Mets went so far as to bring Ricky Bones back as the Mets bullpen coach. The thing about bringing Bones back is it is apparently working.
Since June 20, Familia has made 15 appearances. Over that stretch, Familia has had 12 scoreless appearances, and he has allowed fewer than two runs 14 times. In August, Familia has not allowed a run in five of his six appearances, and he is striking out 12.7 batters per nine. Over this stretch, batters are hitting .105/.261/.263.
He has not blown a lead since Bones rejoined the Mets staff. This is partially the result of his pitching in lower leverage situations, but it should be noted he has converted his last two hold opportunities. In a four game July stretch from July 16 – July 21, he appeared in four close games, and he allowed no runs over 2.1 innings against the Twins and Giants. He had not appeared in a pressure situation again until Sunday.
In that game, Familia struck out the side against the Nationals. It wasn’t just the results but how he performed. Familia had his swagger back, and he would even break out his old quick pitch. This was an indication Familia felt like the Familia of old. Maybe like many closers, he needs that pressure to be his best on the mound. That Familia put together perhaps the best two year stretch any Mets closer has ever had. It was a sign he may be ready to resume that role again.
Is this an overreaction to a small sample size? Absolutely. That said, the Mets are in a position where they need to be riding the hot hand, and right now, among relievers on the Mets roster with closing experience, Familia is arguably the hot hand.
If you have a game on the line, the Mets need to and should be going to Lugo. With the way he has been pitching lately, he is the best reliever in baseball. The Mets problem is they cannot keep going to Lugo time and again. It’s not possible. They need to find an answer for those nights Lugo isn’t available. With the way things are shaking out right now, Familia may just be the person who should be closing those other games.