Despite the fact that he has been on the injured list twice this season, Jeurys Familia has pitched in a total of two minor league rehab games, both of which came as he worked his way back to the active roster during his second stint. And since his activation following that brief rehab stint, he has pitched well. It’s been just five innings of work over eight appearances, but Familia has brought his ERA down from 7.81 to 6.89 in that short stretch.
Early in the season, things went awry quickly for the 29-year-old. After four scoreless appearances to start his season, Familia struggled mightily. From April 6 through April 30, he made ten appearances—the last of which lasted 29 pitches over the course of five outs—and gave up eleven runs, issued eleven walks, and struck out nine opposing batters. One of those runs was unearned, but that still left him with an 8.44 ERA over that span of 10.2 innings and an unsightly 6.28 ERA on the season.
Now, there were probably two distinct camps of Mets fans who were worried about his performance. The first has always thought Familia isn’t any good at pitching, which quite simply was never true. From 2014, his first full season in the majors, through 2018, Familia’s 2.57 ERA ranked 20th out of 273 relievers who threw at least 100 innings over that span. The second group was concerned about his three-year, $30 million contract because of the shoulder issue he’d had in recent years, and with shoulder soreness being the reason he’s had a pair of IL stints, those concerns have looked valid.
Without any rehab appearances during his first IL stint, Familia was activated in mid-May, and he had a 4.32 ERA in 8.1 innings through the end of that month. And then things went off the rails in a big way in June, as he had an 18.00 ERA in five innings of work that left him with the aforementioned 7.81 ERA on the season.
So let’s take a quick look at his recent performance—those eight appearances since he was activated the second time—to see if there’s some hope that post-second-injured-list-stint Familia is looking more like his good self on the mound. Velocity doesn’t always tell the entire story, but it’s encouraging that he’s averaged 97.0 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball in July, according to Brooks Baseball, his highest mark so far this season. His velocity was down significantly over the first month of the season, as he averaged 94.1 miles per hour in April, though it was up in the 96-96.5 range in May and June.
Familia has thrown his two-seam fastball 65 percent of the time in July, an increase from his rate in the earlier months this season and his 2018 rate. But in 2015, 2016, and 2017, he threw that pitch over 60 percent of the time. That may or may not ultimately mean anything, but it’s a noteworthy change.
On the downside, Familia has not been making batters swing and miss—especially in these outings in July. Opponents have done so just 4.8 percent of the time, a rate lower than his career norm and even significantly lower than the 11.6 percent rate he had posted up to his second IL stint this year. He’s managed six strikeouts over these five innings, but you wouldn’t expect him to average more than one strikeout per inning if the swinging strike rate were to remain so low.
And on top of that, he’s walked five batters in these five innings. Walks have been a major issue for Familia this year, as he has a rate of 7.16 walks per nine innings and has walked 16.9 percent of all batters he’s faced. Couple that kind of walk rate with a major spike in the rate at which he’s allowed home runs—thanks in part to the baseball that’s affected so many pitchers this year—and you have the recipe for an ugly ERA.
That leads us to an encouraging note on which to end this exploration. Familia has not allowed a home run thus far in July. And again, we’re talking about a short span of time with pretty good results, and it’s always tempting to buy into that sort of thing when you’re looking at stats for a player on your favorite team.
Things could get ugly again quickly, especially if Familia’s shoulder still isn’t feeling 100 percent. Even the July version of Familia has things to address. But as part of a bullpen that has had an awful year and one of relatively few players on the Mets’ roster guaranteed significant money beyond this season, it would be nice if he could improve upon those and continue lowering his ERA as the season plays out over the next couple of months.