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Jeurys Familia is the Mets' best reliever, and that's why he should not be their closer in 2015

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Who should close for the Mets in 2015? While Jeurys Familia seems likely to be the best reliever in the bullpen, it shouldn't be him pitching in the 9th inning.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best developments for the Mets at the big league level in 2014 was the growth of reliever Jeurys Familia into a dominant force in the bullpen. The Mets saw plenty of growth in their relief corps as fellow young relievers Jenrry Mejia, Vic Black, and Josh Edgin all took on prominent roles late in games for the Mets but it was Familia who gained the reputation as the team's best option in the back of the pen. Even though it was Mejia who racked up the saves in the 9th, Familia excelled as a fireman late in games and this has led to many fans to argue that Familia should assume closer duties in 2015. While Mejia and Familia should both compete for the closer's job in spring training just to keep everybody honest, I think the Mets would ultimately be best served keeping the two relievers in the same roles they were in throughout last season.

Thanks to an outstanding power sinker that typically sits between 95-97 MPH, Familia racked up an elite 57.4% groundball rate, top 20 in the majors among qualified relievers. In 2014, this sinker allowed him to keep the ball on the ground and (most importantly) in the park, while also limiting line drives and solid contact off the bat. While Familia was able to get plenty of swings and misses with his slider, that hard sinking fastball is his bread and butter, and a key reason why he's so tough for opponents to hit. Likely thanks to this ability to induce weak contact, Familia excelled at stranding inherited runners on base, finishing inside the top 20 qualified MLB relievers in lowest inherited runners scored percentage at 24.3% (9/37 inherited runners scored). That mark was second on the Mets behind Carlos Torres, who only allowed 18.2% (6/33) of inherited runners to score (and for what it's worth, Josh Edgin was a spot behind Familia in the top 20 at 25%). Mejia, in an incredibly small sample due to his role as closer, allowed 4 of 9 inherited runners to score. This isn't to say that Mejia can't strand runners (or that Familia definitely can, for that matter) but we clearly have a larger sample to go with when looking at Familia.

Here's my biggest issue with moving Familia into the closer's role: if we all agree that he's the best reliever in the bullpen, why should he be wasted in the 9th inning? If he's the best reliever that the Mets can bring in from their bullpen, shouldn't he be available in the 7th or 8th inning when the game may actually be on the line, like a true fireman? It's an argument that has been brought up on numerous occasions by sabermetric oriented analysts but the closer's role, set up with the best reliever as the "9th inning specialist", is an inefficient way to run a bullpen. So if Familia is the team's best reliever and if there's some proof (albeit a small sample) that he may excel at stranding inherited runners, why would the Mets want to neutralize that asset by sticking him in the 9th, where he's almost always going to start a fresh inning with a lead?

This, of course, is before you even get to the argument of money and arbitration. We all realize that arbitration takes saves into account and ultimately inflates the salary a closer receives. If, again, we agree that Familia is the team's best relief option in the pen, wouldn't the Mets be better off using him in situations where he's not going to accumulate expensive saves? This would allow his salary to stay lower, allowing the Mets to potentially keep him around longer and at a perhaps cheaper price. This isn't a new concept, as the Oakland A's were notorious for doing this all the way back to the Moneyball days of the early 2000's when they would allow a reliever to rack up saves and then sell him off for quality players to some foolish team, while pitchers like Chad Bradford would serve as the high-leverage firemen used to get out of the big jams. This idea seems relevant to the Mets, especially if they continue to have cash flow issues that would make it difficult to hang onto relievers as they get more expensive. If Mejia continues to do his job in the 9th, which he did 28/31 times in 2014, perhaps they can use this to build up his value and eventually sell him off in this way to another club as he gets more expensive.

Ultimately, the best part of this whole argument for the Mets is that we're able to have it in the first place. Even as recently as May 2014, the Mets didn't have multiple young relievers who could chew up outs at the back end of their bullpen and now with the development of all of these pitchers, they finally have the luxury available to them. That, plus the eventual return of rehabbing closer Bobby Parnell, should allow the Mets to continue to see success regardless of who's taking the ball to start the 9th. Even so, the reasons why Jeurys Familia should assume the closer's role just don't seem to add up to me. The team saw success from their young relief corps set up the way they had it in 2014. Until Jenrry Mejia actually struggles or Parnell returns healthy and pitching like the Parnell of old, I don't see a point in prematurely making a change and potentially upsetting the balance of something that appears to be working well as is.