Coming off a disappointing 2017 season where he pitched just 24.2 innings to an uncharacteristic 4.38 ERA, Jeurys Familia was a bit of a question mark going into 2018. Familia had been a steady, elite reliever for several years in New York, but a blood clot in his shoulder cost him most of 2017 and sapped his effectiveness, somewhat clouding his future. Could Familia return to form after more time off from the surgery? Could he be relied on to immediately resume closer duties? Would we ever see the Familia of old again?
As it turns out, the answers to all three of those questions was a resounding “yes.” Familia returned to his old ways in 2018, delivering a solid half-season as the Mets’ closer. In 40.2 innings with the team, he put up a far more recognizable 2.88 ERA with a 2.55 FIP and 3.69 xFIP. Famlia’s 25.2% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate were both actually better than his career averages, and were marked improvements from his underwhelming 2017 where he only struck out 22.5% and walked 13.5%.
Familia changed his pitch usage a bit this year in his time with the Mets, throwing more of his secondary pitches and relying less on his fastball and sinker than he had in previous seasons. According to Fangraphs, he only threw his fastball and sinker a combined 69% of the time when he pitched for the Mets this season, which was a less than he ever had before. In turn, he upped his slider usage to 25% over that time—more than he ever had before. He even featured his splitter 5.1% of the time, which was more than he had thrown that pitch in any season since 2015.
Famila’s season was also a good example of why the saves stat is not the best measure of a reliever’s value. He racked up 17 saves in 40 games with the Mets, but blew four chances within the first two months, promting some speculation that his job was in danger. Mickey Callaway even had to publicly back his closer at one point.
Looking into the saves he blew, though, it’s hard to fault Familia too much for basically any of them. In his first blown save against the Nationals on April 16, he entered into a bases-loaded situation with a two run lead in the eighth inning. Familia gave up a hit, two runs scored, and he was charged with a blown save. In his other three blown saves—April 21 against the Braves, April 26 against the Cardinals, and May 23 against the Marlins—Familia was asked to hold one-run leads in each of them. In a perfect world, you would hope your closer can hold a one-run lead most of the time, but no pitcher is perfect. Any relief pitcher who is not prime Craig Kimbrel will naturally give up runs every so often, so expecting anyone to hold a one-run lead all the time is not always going to work out; insurance runs are necessary. In fact, after his fourth blown save, Familia’s ERA was still just 2.35; hardly the mark of a struggling pitcher.
Having fallen completely out of the race by the trade deadline, the Mets dealt Familia to the Oakland Athletics on July 21 in exchange for infielder Will Toffey, RHP Bobby Wahl, and international bonus pool money. The trade was viewed as an undersell, and the Mets were chastised by many who thought they had made the deal only looking for salary relief instead of a more impactful return.
Regardless, Familia ended his Mets career cementing himself as one of the better relief pitchers the franchise has ever had. His 2.69 ERA in seven seasons is third-best among all relievers who have pitched at least 200 innings for the Mets. He is seventh in Mets history for appearances by a reliever and racked up 123 saves, the third-highest total in franchise history. What’s more, his single-season save totals of 43 in 2015 and 51 in 2016 are the two highest single-season save totals in franchise history.
Familia enters the offseason as a free agent for the first time in his career, and it is possible the Mets could reunite with the 29-year-old reliever. After all, the team will be in the market for relief pitchers this winter. That said, it’s uncertain if the Mets would be willing to pay the price tag that their former closer may carry.