The 2018 season is shaping up to be the most pivotal year of Jeurys Familia’s Mets tenure. As he’s proven in the past, the Mets need him in order to make a playoff run, and with Familia in his walk year, there's plenty of personal motivation, too.
Familia pounced on his chance to be the Mets closer in 2015. When Jenrry Mejia fell victim to a PED suspension, he introduced fans to his dominant form. His role as closer was vital in clinching the NL East, and after he blew a save on July 30, he was perfect until Game 1 of the World Series.
In 2016, the Mets rode Familia’s performance as an escape artist to a Wild Card berth, although his lone playoff performance yielded some late-inning heartbreak. Still, Familia’s set a franchise record for saves (51), tops in the game that season.
But 2017 was a season Familia and Mets fans alike want to forget. Jeurys started off by missing the first 15 games due to domestic violence suspension, and when reinstated, developed a blood clot in his shoulder, which sidelined him until August. He returned in September, but was still unable to pitch to the pinnacle of his ability. He finished 2017 with a woeful 4.38 ERA, having logged a suspension, and a long stint on the DL. Most importantly, the Mets missed the playoffs.
Familia has one more year left on his contract, and the Mets have their sights set on more October baseball. And no matter how potent the lineup or dominant the starting pitching, recent history shows that a healthy, locked-in Familia is a crucial factor for a playoff run in Queens.
Fortunately, I expect Familia to return to his dominant form this year.
First, he’s entering the season with a clean bill of health, and a clear head. Injuries are one thing, but a suspension can mess with one’s psyche. Plus, the way MLB dragged its feet on its decision (the 15-game ruling was handed down on March 29, just five days before Opening Day), couldn't have helped. Jeurys pitched for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, so he went from pitching in games that felt like playoff contests, to extended Spring Training, back to the season. There's no way that was easy. This season, he'll begin the year worry-free, which should allow him to focus solely on his pitching.
Familia should also benefit from Mickey Callaway’s bullpen-by-committee strategy. Though he may encounter slightly fewer save opportunities, he’ll be counted on in more high-leverage situations.The committee approach also should ensure that Jeurys will receive the proper amount of rest between appearances. He’ll enter games throwing his strongest, which presumably means more control, less walks, and more outs.
Finally, this is Familia’s last year of team control. This is Familia's age-29 season, and while bullpen arms are having the easiest time getting deals in this market, players about to be on the wrong side of 30 are always going to struggle, specifically if they're trending downward. So regardless of where he lands in 2019, Jeurys could be pitching for his only chance to land the big payday of his career.
Overall, the outlook for 2018 is strong. Mickey Callaway is bringing in a new culture. The front office made shrewd moves to fill many needs. Our starting rotation seems healthy again. But the formula hasn’t changed. While it’s a team effort, to make the playoffs, Familia must return to being a dominant closer.
Photo credits: Jim McIssac
Associated Press | John Bazemore