The 2019 season was not the sort of homecoming that Jeurys Familia or the New York Mets had envisioned.
Familia spent the second half of the 2018 season outside of the organization that signed him for the first time in his Major League Baseball career. With the Mets limping towards a second straight fourth place finish, the team dealt their closer, who has been in their system since 2008, to the Oakland Athletics. In 31.1 innings on the west coast, he posted a 3.45 ERA, a 2.78 FIP, a 1.21 WHIP, a 30.5% strikeout rate, and a 0.7 fWAR.
His performance in Oakland’s postseason push perhaps convinced the Mets to reunite with their bullpen stalwart during the offseason, jumping the reliever market and inking him to a three-year deal with $30 million during the Winter Meetings. With lots of suitable and established relievers still available, the Mets chose to go with the familiar instead of testing new and uncertain waters. While Edwin Diaz was brought in to close, the expectation was that the two of them would compliment each other and help fix a bullpen that finished 2018 with a 4.96 ERA, a 4.61 FIP, and a -0.3 fWAR.
The reality was much, much worse for Familia. While Diaz had a catastrophic season in his own right, Familia’s 2019 was even more distressful, if you could believe it. Starting off the year as the team’s set-up man, he struggled almost immediately and seemingly lost the confidence of manager Mickey Callaway, who utilized him less and less in high-pressure situations as the year went on. After four scoreless appearances to kick off the season, he imploded on April 6 against the Washington Nationals and allowed two home runs, turning a one-run lead into a two-run deficit—the Mets would recover with three in the bottom of the eighth to earn a victory. This would stand as the first of five appearances on the season where Familia surrendered at least three earned runs.
The rest of Familia’s April was rocky, as he allowed seven earned runs over his next nine appearances. He closed out the month with a 6.28 ERA, a 6.07 FIP, and a 2.02 WHIP in 14.1 innings. His 21.4% K rate was well below his career averages, while his 18.6% BB rate was alarming, to say the least. At the onset of a brand new month, Familia told the club that his shoulder was sore, and an MRI revealed that Familia had a Bennett lesion, resulting in the right-hander landing on the injured list.
The 29-year-old righty returned on May 15 and lasted 33 days in between IL stints. In that brief span, he made 15 appearances, though his performance hardly improved following his return. In 13.1 innings, he posted an unsightly 9.45 ERA and 6.21 FIP with a 21.3% strikeout rate and a 13.1% walk rate. He registered four holds but also blew a save on May 21 against the Nationals when he allowed two earned runs on two hits in one-third of an inning of work. He leveled off a bit and fired off four straight scoreless outings before allowing a run to the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 29 and three runs on two hits in two-thirds of an inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks to begin June.
After putting up three straight zeroes, he had two of his worst performances in a row before landing back on the shelf. At home against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 14, Familia was called upon to protect a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning after the Mets jumped ahead in the bottom of the seventh. He served up a leadoff homer to Paul DeJong to immediately even up the score. After returning the next two batters, he allowed a double and a walk before Dexter Fowler unloaded on a three-run shot to put New York behind for good. Three nights later at SunTrust Park against the Atlanta Braves, he came in for the seventh and allowed a single and two walks before Drew Gagnon replaced him and allowed all three runners to score. It was the last time he would pitch until July, as his Bennett lesion once again resurfaced and he ended up back on the injured list.
Familia returned and had his best stretch of the 2019 season, which came with an increase in his velocity. According to Brooks Baseball, the reliever averaged 94.26 miles-per-hour on his fourseam fastball in April, which is well below the 97.27 miles-per-hour he averaged on it throughout his career. In his first stretch back from mid-May to mid-June, that increased to 96.34, which is closer to what the team is used to seeing from him. From July 3-August 3, that number jumped to 97.15, which is just a shade below his usual velocity.
From his July return through the end of August, Familia tossed 19.2 innings with a 2.75 ERA, a 3.77 FIP, a 1.68 WHIP, a 29.1% strikeout rate, and an 18.6% walk rate. He was far from the Familia the team felt they would be getting but he was at least playable as the team fought to climb back into the playoff hunt and crept to within a half-game of a Wild Card spot. Much like the team itself, Familia slowed down a bit once September rolled around. In his first appearance that month, he entered a tied game in the eighth and allowed an inherited runner to score before letting two more runs to cross the plate in a back-breaking 5-2 defeat to the Philadelphia Phillies. Three days later in Washington D.C., he allowed three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. In two outings, his ERA jumped from 5.70 to 6.43
He ended his year with holds in back-to-back games on the final weekend of the season against the Braves. In total, his inconsistent September was emblematic of the season he had, as he finished with a 5.86 ERA and a 3.85 FIP that month. His 8.8% walk rate was his lowest in any calendar month, although his 17.5% strikeout rate was also his work mark. Familia finished with a 5.70 ERA, a 4.88 FIP, a 1.73 WHIP, a 23.0% strikeout rate, and a 15.3% walk rate.
The most unnerving stat when examining his year were the walks. He racked up a career-worst 42 walks in just 60 innings, which compares unfavorably to 28 walks in 72 innings in 2018, 22 walks in 77.2 innings during his All Star 2016 campaign, and 19 walks in 78 innings in 2015. His 6.3 BB/9 was easily a career-high in a full season while representing the worst mark among all major league relief pitchers who logged at least 60 innings. His 1.1 HR/9 was also the worst mark of his career in any full season, although slightly easier to explain given the dramatic increase in home runs this season as compared to prior years.
There’s not much good to take out of Familia’s season, and it’s unclear how the club will handle him moving forward. He has two years left at $11 million per season, which will make him hard to move should the club want to go that route. The Mets could look to package him for another team’s high-priced underachiever, but it’s unclear how fruitful these discussions would end up being.
Familia struck out fewer opponents, walked more batters, served up more home runs, and was generally unreliable in all situations, big and small. The good news, if there is any to take, is that it’s hard to envision things being worse in 2020. Unfortunately, Familia is now on the wrong side of 30 and has injuries that continue to hinder his performance on the field. Familia figures to return alongside Diaz in 2020 as key cogs in the bullpen, and the hope is that he can recapture some of the talent he displayed throughout much of the early part of his career so he can once again be an effective reliever for Carlos Beltran to call upon.