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Jeurys Familia is looking to bounce back in 2020

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PECOTA expects Familia to bounce back, but can the big right-hander follow through?

Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia at spring training 2020 Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

When the Mets signed Jeurys Familia to three-year, $30 million last offseason, it could generally be characterized as “okay.” It was not cheap for a second-tier relief option, but Familia had an extended track record of success in a late-inning role and had looked great down the stretch in Oakland with a modified pitch mix. There were warning signs as well—most notably, a history of shoulder issues and diminished velocity—and the contract turned out to be a small overpay given how the rest of the relief market developed, but these issues were little more than minor warts given the nebulous nature of projecting relievers.

Unsurprisingly, the results were about as Mets-ian as possible. Familia’s velocity dipped another two miles per hour, his movement was a little worse, and he reverted to his pre-Oakland pitch mix—fewer sliders, more fastballs. Perhaps most importantly, Familia managed to throw only 40.6% of his pitches in the zone, his lowest mark since his 12-inning debut in 2012. The end result was a 5.70 ERA backed by an equally ghastly 120.4 DRA-. Things were better in the second half compared to the first—4.01 FIP versus 5.75—but for much of the season Familia looked totally cooked.

The Mets spent most of the offseason trying to dump Familia, but unsurprisingly couldn’t find any takers for a 30-year-old reliever with shoulder problems due $22 million over the next two seasons. Nevertheless, the Mets did make a move to replace Familia in the late-inning hierarchy, adding another reliever with shoulder problems in Dellin Betances. That’s a bold strategy, Cotton, we’ll see how it works out for them.

Snark aside, the Betances signing was a good high-risk, high-reward move, and it bumps Familia to what is basically a middle-relief role behind Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, and Betances. Perhaps some time as a lower-leverage option will give Familia a chance to either re-discover what he was or evolve into a new pitcher who can be effective despite diminished raw stuff. To his credit, Familia seems have recognized the importance of this season, and he arrived to camp having dropped thirty pounds during the offseason.

For what it’s worth, PECOTA projects Familia for a significant bounceback. Baseball Prospectus’s median projection suggest that improved control (4.1 BB/9) and some better BABIP luck—.283 versus the .346 he allowed in 2019—will bring Familia’s ERA back into mid-3s and allow him to post an 86 DRA-. That mark, equivalent to being 14% better than league average, would be Familia’s best since 2016, and while it’s a far sight from his 2015 peak and worse than both ‘14 and ‘16, it would make him a serviceable arm that you can be comfortable with in a seventh inning role. That’s certainly not what the Mets paid for, but it would be a welcome improvement over the first year of his deal.