Jeurys Familia picked a terrific time to throw one of the nastiest pitches of the season. Facing the National League’s best hitter in the ninth inning of the biggest Mets game since 2008, Familia overpowered Bryce Harper with a 96 mph splitter. Yes, you read that correctly, a 96 mph splitter.
If you have no seen it, I strongly recommend you check out this video of the ridiculous offering, courtesy of The Pitcher List. The splitter is a new pitch for Familia. Prior to August of this season, the Mets’ closer had thrown exactly zero splitters in his career. Now, however, the splitter is his primary pitch against left-handed hitters, used when ahead in the count.
The splitter is difficult to consistently command, has a reputation for being bad for the elbow, and most pitchers do not throw the pitch. However, mastery of the pitch has turned otherwise ordinary pitchers like Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka into stars. The offering can be extremely deceptive when thrown with proper arm speed, making it very difficult for hitters to track. It typically has much more vertical drop than a changeup to the point that it can be thrown as a power pitch, fooling hitters with movement rather than a change in speeds.
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. Since he began throwing it, his splitter is the fastest in the league. The table below shows the leaders in splitter velocity for the month of August through Monday's games (minimum 10 innings pitched).
|8||Nick Masset||- - -||86.8|
Familia’s splitter is a full three mph faster than any other pitcher's splitter on the list. His offering can hardly be called an offspeed pitch, especially when the velocity difference between his 93.7 mph splitter and 96.3 mph fastball is so small. The gap is smaller than the gap between any other pitcher’s fastball and splitter. The chart below shows the leaders in this category.
|Rank||Name||Team||vFA||vFS||vFA - vFS|
|5||Dan Haren||- - -||86.0||82.3||3.7|
|7||Edward Mujica||- - -||90.4||85.5||4.9|
|8||Nick Masset||- - -||91.9||86.8||5.1|
|9||Xavier Cedeno||- - -||88.2||83.1||5.1|
Having a small difference in velocity is not inherently good or bad - it is simply an attribute. To fool hitters with a change in speed, an 8-10 mph difference between the fastball and offspeed pitch is desired, but other attributes, such as movement, deception, and command also play significant roles in the overall effectiveness of the pitch. Similar to Felix Hernandez’s notorious changeup, Familia’s splitter is an effective pitch featuring a velocity that is very close to his fastball velocity.
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. By comparison, his sinker, which represents most of his fastballs, drops 17.65 inches. For a pitch without a large difference in velocity, that is a large difference in movement and is a big reason for the sudden effectiveness of Familia’s newest toy.
Bryce Harper did not come close to hitting Familia's 96 mph spliter
The immediate effectiveness is supported by FanGraphs’ pitch value metrics. On a rate basis, the splitter has been by far Familia’s best pitch, as it checks in at 4.26 runs saved per 100 pitches. He hasn’t thrown 100 splitters yet so take that figure with a grain of salt, but it is encouraging to see such positive results this early. His other notable pitches, sinker and slider, check in at 1.59 and 2.38 respectively. This gives him three above average pitches, making him a real threat at the backend of ballgames.
In the absence of Jenrry Mejia, Familia has thrived. As his club continues their playoff push and looks to hold off a late-charging Nationals’ team, finishing off close games will continue to be essential for the Mets. Fortunately for them, their bullpen has looked extremely strong lately, and none stronger than Familia. His pitch arsenal is electric, and the addition of this remarkable splitter gives him a terrific weapon to use against tough left-handed hitters like Bryce Harper. The Mets’ relief ace has enjoyed a strong season, but the addition of the splitter has made him even better heading into the most important games the Mets have played in years.
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Dan Weigel is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Sporting News. Follow him on Twitter at @DanWeigel38.