Well, the New York Mets beat out the Chicago Cubs to advance to the World Series. How many of you at home had that sentence being a thing? Was it number three on your ‘Top-five MLB sentences I won’t be seriously uttering in 2015’ list we all made back in April? It was probably nestled in right behind ‘The Miami Marlins seem like they have a stable front office’ and ‘Hanley Ramirez is playing well defensively in leftfield’, of course.
/"Oh, that wasn’t actually a thing?"
/"I’m the only one who was cynical enough to do it?"
/"I should get back to the article?"
*crumples up list and throws it into the trash*
So the Mets are four baseball games away from reigning supreme in the baseball world and, in this quest to win a ring and send off newly-former-Daily Show host Jon Stewart with the World Series he deserves, the Mets have found something. I say they found something, but it’s more like the world has found Jeurys Familia—the Mets have just been the joyful recipients of something that has been building for years.
When he first broke into the bigs in 2012, Familia showcased a slower-slider, changeup, fourseam fastball, and a sinker. However, towards the end of 2015 and especially in the playoffs, Familia has effectively become a three pitch closer. Wielding three strong pitches is, after all, something he has been striving to do since being told he was going to come out of the bullpen in the Majors.
The lights-out playoff version of Jeurys Familia we have seen lately is the culmination of three seasons of tinkering to find the right combination of pitches—a sinker, a slider, and a splitter.
This postseason is a microcosm of what Jeurys Familia has been doing since mid-August. You could even say that he has been doing this all season, but the middle of August is the more accurate, since that was when he added that devastating splitter to his repertoire.
From Brooks Baseball, here is a look at how much of a microcosm Familia’s postseason has been compared to the regular season since he added his splitter:
|Pitch Type||Postseason (Raw number)||Regular Season|
I know, I know. At this point, most readers are probably saying the same thing. Shawn, you’re going to draw conclusions from a sample-size of 9.2 innings? Worse than that, postseason baseball is well known to be unpredictable and doesn’t allude to future success.
To that informed reader, I would concede that they have a solid argument. The sample size and environment aren’t ideal for talking about how good of a closer the Mets have found in the 26-year old past the last pitch of the clinching World Series game. Normally all that would be true and, to an extent, it still is even for Familia. However, the reason Familia breaks the mold is that he is finally the complete pitcher, repertoire-wise, he has spent the last three seasons trying to become. Which is saying something, because it isn’t like he pitched poorly or struggled before.
So how did we get to this point?
Starting with the pitch Familia has had for the longest, his sinker began to show up as his go-to pitch following his 2013 season. That is when Familia added two inches of vertical movement, took away two inches of horizontal movement, and two miles per hour on average. This resulted in a rather large uptick in sinker usage for the reliever in 2014.
This only continued at in 2015, and began to accelerate even more once Familia added his splitter. The increase of sinkers caused a predicament for the hard throwing righty—he also threw a fourseam that regularly sits in the upper 90s. So instead of throwing two fastballs, he opted to stick with his improved sinker.
(side note: How good do you have to be to say, ‘I know I can throw a fastball in the triple digits, but instead I think I’m going to go with this sinker I can throw in the upper 90s with nearly six inches of vertical movement’?)
That decision has been one that worked out for Familia this season, as a .211 BAA and .105 ISO allude to. Not to mention that the pitch is the third hardest thrown in Major League Baseball, owns a whiff/swing of 27.17, and has a 12.5 wSI—the best in among qualified relievers.
Then came the slider.
Simply put, Familia turned a slower, loopier slider into a tight, fast slider. In fact, his improved slider is second speed-wise to only Miami Marlins Bryan Morris among relievers who have thrown the pitch at least 200 times.
|Season||Number of pitches||Percent of pitches||Average speed (mph)||H-movement (in.)||V-movement (in.)|
I could go on to explain this further with boring words, or I could just show you two .gifs that encapsulate the change.
Yeah, I think I’ll do the latter. This is the Internet, and everyone here loves .gifs, espiecally .gifs that illustrate my point.
The speed and movement difference seem to have worked for Familia, as he owns a wSL of 5.4 this year—good enough for 20th out of the 112 qualified relievers that throw a slider. Combine that with the fact that Familia also has a 54.69 whiff/swing on the pitch (5th highest total in the majors) and you can see how effective it has been.
The last piece of the puzzle was, of course, the splitter.
This season he has switched out his changeup for a splitter. The baseball community has discussed this pitch ad nauseam, but that is because it is freakishly amazing. Our own Dan Weigel wrote about it in September, and the title should tell you everything you need to know. ‘Jeurys Familia now throws a 96 mph splitter’. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off of the ground. Is that legal? How exactly does one hit a 96 mph fastball, much less a splitter?
As Dan wrote:
Familia uses the movement on his splitter to his advantage. He has little intention of fooling batters with the speed difference. His new pitch averages 93.7 mph, touches 96, and is clearly a power pitch[…]
As for movement on the splitter, the Mets’ closer ranks 14th out of the 50 pitchers with splitters who have thrown at least 20 innings this season. If we include gravity in the calculation, Familia's splitter moves 26.02 inches down on its’ way to the plate.
Putting all three together, the Mets’ closer now has a way to attack hitters he never did before—specifically lefties.
Since the incorporation of his splitter, Familia has been generally predictable in how he chooses to pitch to hitters. For lefties, he will start them off with a sinker. Once he is ahead in the count, he will feed the hitter a steady diet of splitters. Should he fall behind in the count, he will go with the sinker until he is ahead of the batter. It would be rare, though, to see him throw a slider to a left-handed hitter.
For righties, Familia will start them off with a sinker. He would be more apt to throw a slider starting off an at bat for a right-handed hitter than he would a splitter starting off an at bat to a lefty, but generally he will throw a sinker here. After this pitch he will use either his slider or sinker—saving his splitter as a put away pitch only for when he is ahead.
Jeurys Familia has been phenomenal in closing for the New York Mets this postseason. Not only Mets fans, but the world is getting the chance to see one of the next good young closers put it all together right before their eyes. He finally has the types of pitches he had been looking for since being moved to the bullpen—which is scary, because it means he could be even better next season than he was in 2015.
So watch on, baseball world. Get Familia with his name (at least I waited until the end). Jeurys Familia is becoming one of the best relievers in the game.
. . .
Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score as well as a sophomore pitcher at Howard Payne University majoring in Business Management. He has the current misfortune of being a Red Sox fan. If you would like to get a hold of him, please feel free to email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody.