New York Mets

While Jacob deGrom and Daniel Murphy have received recent accolades, the New York Mets’ Jeurys Familia is often left out of the discussion as his team’s best player.  However, hopes lies in him for the NLCS and beyond.    

By Bryan Pol

So many have lauded Derek Jeter’s importance to the Yankees’ late ’90s dynasty that ended with a loss in the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games.

In 1999, arguably the Captain’s best campaign, Jeter put together an MVP-caliber season, leading the majors in hits (219) and Wins Above Replacement (9.0), while posting the best OPS+ (153) of his career in a single season.  Alas, Jeter, who lost the batting title to Nomar Garciaparra by a slim margin (.349 to .357), did not hit for power: his 24 home runs, the best mark of his career in an individual season, paled in comparison to the outputs of Pudge Rodriguez (35), Manny Ramirez (44), and Rafael Palmeiro (47), all of whom, along with Pedro Martinez, who himself had a transcendent season, and Roberto Alomar, finished above Jeter in MVP voting.

In 1998, Jeter, leading baseball’s winningest franchise (their 125 wins in the regular and postseasons are the most all-time), finished third in MVP voting, and would finish in the top 10 of MVP voting four times in the span of as many years, leading the Yankees to four World Series championships in a five year span.

Jeter comprised what the media coined “The Core Four” alongside Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and the unassuming Mariano Rivera, whose importance to the Yankee dynasty is as understated as it is underappreciated.

The Yankees lost 4-3 in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, despite Alfonso Soriano’s eighth inning home run providing the Yankees a 3-2 lead, largely on the woes Rivera, whose blown save in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians deprived them of a chance to win the series and move on to the ALCS, just as a blown save in Game 4 of the infamous 2004 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox precipitated a collapse by which New York lost four straight, the first team in major league history to endure such a fate and relative fall from grace after leading a playoff series three games to none.

In short, the Yankees won when Rivera was a force, and lost when he fizzled.

For as long as he was the Yankee closer, Rivera was the best in baseball, not just in his era, but likely of all-time.  While Jeter receives plaudits for his clutch October performances, the Yankees’ dynasty—their ability to compete and capacity to resuscitate itself in 2009 (a year in which the Yankees won their final World Series with all members of “The Core Four” intact)—can and does not happen without Rivera’s sustained brilliance.

Rivera finished 952 games as a pitcher, the most of all-time.  His 652 saves and ERA+ mark of 205?  Also the greatest of all-time.

Five times, Rivera finished in the top-five in Cy Young voting, thrice finishing in the top-three, once finishing second (losing out to Los Angeles Angels ace Bartolo Colon in 2005). Despite his relative gaffes against the Diamondbacks, Indians, and Red Sox, Rivera was  8-1 in the postseason with 42 saves and a minuscule 0.70 ERA and 0.75 WHIP, winning the World Series MVP in 1999 and the ALCS MVP in 2003, allowing zero earned runs in 22 of the 32 postseason series in which he played.

By all accounts, Mariano Rivera, not Jeter, Bernie Williams, nor any other member of “The Core Four,” was his team’s most important player, and the undisputed best at his position for the course of his Yankee career.

So while Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard are putting forth great, if not monumental, efforts for the New York Mets in the midst of their best October run in nine years, Jeurys Familia, arguably the best closer in all of baseball, is oft overlooked.

In the NLDS, Familia disposed of the Dodgers with ease, retiring sixteen consecutive batters, including six in Game 5, by which Familia recorded a six-out save, a feat akin to the efforts Rivera regularly accomplished for the Yankees when he was at the peak of his powers.

Despite what Noah Syndergaard did to dispatch of the Dodgers in the seventh inning of Game 5, coming in to spell Jacob deGrom after a bullish effort, manager Terry Collins called upon Familia for two innings of work, a move that was essentially two-fold:  (1) given that Familia accomplished the feat with ease and aplomb, he may be called upon to do so again, and will likely succeed in the process and (2) given Collins’s bold decision, there is no doubt the Met skipper has confidence in the 25 year old to consistently get the job done in the ninth.

Given Rafael Montero’s potential and Jenrry Mejia’s quasi-stranglehold on the position in 2014, Familia’s serving as Mets’ closer was not entirely a given in 2015.

Then, Montero practically never left Port St. Lucie with a shoulder ailment.  Mejia served an 80-game, PED related suspension, only to return for a few appearances and subsequently be put back on suspension for more unfortunate ties to PEDs.

The closer’s role was all Familia’s, and the likes of Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed would be acquired in July and August to serve as the bridge to Familia.

For the season, Familia went 2-2 with 43 saves, a Met franchise record (good for third best behind Mark Melancon’s 51 and Trevor Rosenthal’s 48), posting a 1.85 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a Rivera-esque 200 ERA+ quotient.  Despite his rough month of July (he had a 4.61 ERA with three blown saves and a loss), Familia bounced back to post a 0.59 ERA and 0.97 WHIP (9 saves) in August and a 2.16 ERA and 1.13 WHIP (7 saves) in parts of September and October.  He lead the NL in games finished with 65, striking out 86 batters in 78 innings, punching out batters at a near 10.0 K/9 IP clip (9.9).

Despite earning more saves, Melancon and Rosenthal each had a higher ERA (2.23 and 2.10 respectively), while Rosenthal posted a higher WHIP (1.27), and both had lower ERA+ marks (173 and 189 respectively) than Familia.  Quizzically, Melancon and Rosenthal were All-Stars, and Familia was wrongfully snubbed.

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Familia, however, boasting the last laugh all this while, is still pitching in October, while his counterparts are not.

From July 31 to October 4, Familia converted 16-of-17 save opportunities, including 14 in a row.  Although his ERA hit a season-high 2.22 in a loss to the San Diego Padres on July 30, his ERA went beneath 2.00 for good on August 10, a 4-2 win against the Colorado Rockies, in which Familia garnered his 31st save on the season.

Fortunately for the Mets, Familia is at his best on the road, where he converted 19 saves, accruing a infinitesimal 0.61 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, while allowing a .187 opponents’ batting average.

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In 7 2/3 innings this postseason, Familia allowed only two hits and one walk, all of which were spread over Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs.  He has not allowed a single run, posting a 0.39 WHIP in six appearances, managing four saves.

While fans are uncertain of what type of outings to expect from Reed, Clippard, Bartolo Colon, Jonathan Niese, and the remaining committee that comprises the Met bullpen, they know what they are getting from Familia:  unbridled exuberance, a heavy dose of high velocity pitches, and a lockdown performance that preserves leads and moves his club a game closer to a World Series berth with each fearless outing.

The young, fiery Jeurys Familia continues to answer the bell when Collins calls, giving the Mets the same hope Rivera did when he took on the closer’s role in ’97.

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I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.