Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Jeurys Out: Familia Is Guilty of Being a Top Closer

The Mets have not had too many "lights out" closers since the dawn of the 21st century.  Armando Benitez is the only Mets closer with multiple 40-save seasons.  But he walked too many hitters and was a Mr. April type pitcher, meaning he was wonderful when games weren't critical but always seemed to allow a crushing hit or home run in September and October.  Similarly, Braden Looper was booed off the Shea Stadium mound several times in his two-year stretch as the team's closer, yet somehow ranks in the team's all-time top ten in saves despite allowing more hits than innings pitched in both of his seasons here.  And since Francisco Rodriguez punched his ticket (quite literally) out of Citi Field in 2011, a total of ten pitchers have filled in as closer for the Mets, including Jason Isringhausen, Manny Acosta, Jon Rauch, LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde.

Stability has never been a word associated with the closer position in Flushing in the past 15 seasons.  But after injuries and/or suspensions curtailed the ninth inning duties for both Bobby Parnell and Jenrry Mejia, a third homegrown pitcher was called upon to put on his closer shoes.  And this time, the Mets may have finally found the dependable closer they've been looking for all these years.

Jeurys Familia has been pumping his fist quite often during the season's first month.  (Getty Images)

After starting 111 games in parts of six minor league seasons, Jeurys Familia was thrust into the bullpen once he made it to the big show.  Familia only pitched 23 innings for the Mets in 2012 and 2013, but finally stayed with the team for good in 2014.  Since earning a full-time gig in the bullpen, Familia has been nothing short of spectacular, posting a 2.11 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 88 appearances.  He has also struck out nearly a batter per inning and allowed just 63 hits to the 365 batters he has faced.

Familia got some save opportunities here and there in 2014, racking up five saves in his first full season in the majors - a year that saw him finish seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year vote.  But once Mejia was suspended 80 games for a banned substance violation earlier this season, Familia became the team's full-time closer, and he has been as close to perfect as we've seen in Flushing in quite some time.

Through Saturday's game, Familia is a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities, leading all of baseball in that department.  He also became the first Met to rack up eight saves in an 11-game stretch and the first to record more than eight saves before the end of April.  But what's more impressive than the total number of saves is how he's getting those saves.  He's basically doing it without even working up a sweat.

Since coming into the game for his first save opportunity on April 12, Familia has appeared in ten games.  He retired every batter he faced in five of those ten appearances and allowed exactly one base runner in each of the other five.  Familia has faced a total of 35 batters in those ten relief outings, allowing just five of them to reach base - and one of them was later erased on a double play.

This isn't a new thing for Familia, who has been on top of his game since last June.  Familia appeared in 50 games after the calendar turned from May to June in 2014.  He faced the minimum number of hitters in almost half of those outings (23 in all) and allowed no more than one base runner in 34 of the 50 contests.  Compare those numbers to what Jenrry Mejia produced as the team's closer in 2014 (56 relief appearances; allowed multiple base runners in 28 of them and faced the minimum just 20 times) and it's clear that Familia's appearances have given Mets fans less stress than Mejia's outings ever did.

After years of suffering through less-than-dependable closers and going with the closer du jour, it looks as if the Mets have finally found what they were looking for in their ninth-inning pitcher.  Jeurys Familia throws strikes that aren't hit 400 feet.  He's also efficient (13.2 pitches per inning in 2015) and limits stress-inducing innings.

Through injuries (Parnell) and poor choices (Mejia), Familia has been given a chance to be the team's closer.  He's done nothing to make manager Terry Collins regret his decision.  And he's done everything to become one of the top closers in the game.  Not bad for a pitcher who was once being groomed to be a starter instead of one who has done quite a bit of finishing.

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