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Jeurys Familia’s possible return to form

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The 30-year-old has shown some promising signs in his first six appearances this year.

MLB: AUG 04 Mets at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With a 5.33 ERA through thirteen games of the 2020 season, the Mets’ bullpen has hardly been special, ranking 24th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball in ERA. Despite the struggles of several of its pitchers, though, there have been some good early performances mixed in, and Jeurys Familia’s first six appearances have been a drastic improvement upon his 2019 performance.

We are, of course, talking about just five-and-two-thirds innings of work here, but the 2020 season hasn’t afforded anyone the luxury of waiting several weeks or months to see how things develop over the course of a full baseball season. But given the reality, the Mets have played 21.67 percent of their season already, and there simply won’t be a large sample of data available for anyone this year. A player’s stat line at the end of this season should be taken for what it is: less than half a season’s worth of performance.

Within that context, Familia has looked much better on the mound in these appearances, and the numbers back up that perception. With a 25.0 percent strikeout rate, he’s been right in line with his 24.8 percent rate over the course of his career. His 12.5 percent walk rate isn’t as good as his 10.7 rate for his career, but it’s less of a problem than his 15.3 percent rate last year, the worst single season mark of his career.

Familia has yet to give up a home run this year, a skill that he has often had in his major league career. From the 2014 season, his first full season as a major league reliever, through 2018, Familia allowed just 0.38 home runs per season and had a stretch without giving up any home runs that lasted for more than a calendar year. Last year, though, he gave up 1.05 home runs per nine. He was far from the only pitcher to see a spike in home runs allowed with MLB’s use of an extremely hitter-friendly baseball, but his combination of spikes in walks issued and home runs allowed was a bad one.

In terms of stuff, Familia is averaging 96.57 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball so far this year, per Brooks Baseball. That’s not up to the average of 97-to-98 miles per hour that he threw from 2014 through 2018, but it’s an uptick from last year’s 95.78. His two-seam fastball, or sinker, has averaged 95.61 miles per hour this year, which is a bit slower than last year and two full miles per hour slower than his 97.67 average in 2015. Famila has averaged 89.07 miles per hour on his slider, which is a little harder than he’s thrown it over the past few years. And his splitter, which he introduced in 2015, has averaged 91.0 miles per hour this year, which is slower than he’s thrown it in any other season since then.

When it comes to using those pitches, Familia has thrown his slider 42.19 percent of the time, by far his highest usage of the pitch when compared to any other season in his major league career. He’s also thrown his sinker just 38.28 percent of the time, by far his lowest use of that pitch over the last several years.

It will take more innings to determine whether or not Familia made a conscious decision to change his pitch mix coming into the 2020 season or the numbers are just a bit noisy so far since they’re based on such a small number of pitches. For now, though, what Familia is doing appears to be working. His 13.9 percent swinging strike rate is above his 13.1 career average, and a step in the right direction compared to last year’s 10.5.

If the Mets are going to make a playoff push this year, something that’s very much attainable with MLB’s expanded playoff format for the pandemic-shortened season, they will need their bullpen to be better than it has been overall. Edwin Diaz and Dellin Betances will have to be better, but Familia was far from a guarantee to bounce back from his very bad 2019 season. He’s still no guarantee to do it over the rest of this season, but it’s good to see that the early returns suggest it is at least possible.