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When Jeurys Familia made his climb up the minor-league ladder, he earned the distinction of having the best fastball in a Mets system that included Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. It was a pitch that sat in the mid-90s while Familia was a starter and had plenty of late, arm-side life. But questions regarding the Dominican right-hander's high-effort delivery, poor command profile, and lack of a third quality pitch left most prospect pundits predicting a future home in the bullpen.

Elbow surgery and bouts of wildness upon his return to the Arizona Fall League in 2013 effectively dashed any hope that Familia would carve out a career in the rotation, and the Mets opened the 2014 season with him pitching out of the big-league bullpen. All Familia did in his first full major-league season was impress, as his fastball and slider played up in shorter stints, and he settled in as the club's setup man. He still dealt with the occasional bout of wildness but also struck out just under a batter per inning and generated his share of grounders with his two-seamer, leading to a shiny 2.21 ERA and 3.07 FIP.

In 2015, Familia has taken an even greater leap forward after taking over as the team's closer when Jenrry Mejia was suspended for the first of his two PED suspensions in early April. Familia's fastball velocity is up a tick and now averages 98 mph; he ditched his slurvy breaking ball that ranged from the mid-to-high-80s for the Dan Warthen slider, which features later bite and has averaged 90 mph this season.

All the while, he's sharpened his command of both pitches. Gone is the hard-throwing minor-leaguer who had little idea of where any of his pitches was going; Familia can now take advantage of the movement on his fastball by backdooring it to right-handers to steal a strike or starting it in the zone against a left-hander only to have it dart away at the last second.

Blend the increased velocity with enhanced command and you get a reliever who has made each of his pitches count for more: He has induced more chases with his pitches out of the zone and less contact on pitches in the zone while shaving his walk rate by over a third.

Season

K%

BB%

Zone%

Z-Swing%

O-Swing%

Z-Contact%

O-Contact%

2014

22.7%

9.9%

43%

63%

35%

88%

51%

2015

26.1%

6.2%

43%

66%

39%

85%

50%

Armed with an excellent two-mix pitch and the occasional quick pitch—a move passed down by former teammate LaTroy Hawkins—Familia has done a fine job anchoring the bullpen in Flushing. His 2.77 DRA ranks him 32nd among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched this season, among the likes of bullpen stalwarts Will Smith, Justin Wilson, Glen Perkins, and Trevor Rosenthal. His fastball is a unique blend of bat-missing and worm-killing; Zach Britton's sinker and Carlos Frias' cutter are the only other pitches this season (min. 200 pitches) that pair a whiff-per-swing rate of at least 25 percent with a ground-ball rate of at least 60 percent.

Meanwhile, his slider has elicited a whiff-per-swing rate of 55 percent this season, the sixth-highest rate among breaking balls thrown at least 200 times.

Despite the dominant reliever into which Familia has evolved, the biggest hurdle that has kept him from reaching the truly elite tier of late-inning relievers has been his noticeable platoon split. The boring action of his two-seam fastball equips him better against lefties than your typical fastball-slider pitcher, but the gap in his performance against lefties and righties throughout his career is still startling.

Split

K%

BB%

ISO

BABIP

Hard-hit%

RHB

29%

9%

.083

.235

22%

LHB

16%

11%

.123

.296

30%

Familia had a changeup in the minors but it graded out as below average and the pitch's lack of development was one of the reasons he transitioned to the bullpen. At the beginning of the season Familia experimented with a modified version of a splitter, a pitch he told Marc Carig of Newsday came about from his failed attempts to master his changeup. Familia showed Carig his grip, where he split his fingers and placed them on the seams, but he used the splitter sparingly in April and it was so inconsistent that he dropped it from his repertoire soon afterward.

Then, two weeks ago, Familia closed out a game against the Rockies and the pitch made its triumphant return, much to the dismay of Ben Paulsen.


Paulsen swung through yet another 93 mph splitter that featured late diving action in that at-bat and walked back to the dugout presumably wondering why such a deadly weapon hadn't been highlighted on the scouting report. Despite shelving it from game action earlier this season, Familia continued to work on the splitter during bullpens before unleashing his revamped version of the pitch on Paulsen.

Since that appearance, the splitter has become a regular part of Familia's repertoire and has averaged just a hair under 94 mph, three full ticks faster than it was earlier this season and with over a half-inch more drop. In particular, it has become the weapon against left-handed hitters that he had previously been missing.

With his newest toy at his disposal, Familia has effectively scrapped his slider against left-handed batters and now has three different pitches to use against right-handers, especially late in the count. We're talking about an extremely small sample, but so far the splitter has been an effective swing-and-miss offering, generating whiffs at a similar rate as his slider.

The most obvious thing that stands out about Familia's splitter is the velocity. Again, insanely small sample—we're only talking 19 splitters over the past two weeks—but the pitcher with the next-fastest average velocity on a splitter this season is Arquimedes Caminero, who averages 90 mph with his version of the pitch.

The 4 mph separation between Familia's fastball and splitter isn't unprecedented, as Taijuan Walker has a 5 mph gap between his fastball and splitter, and we've seen pitchers like Felix Hernandez and Henderson Alvarez exhibit similar separation between their power changeups and sinkers. But unlike Walker, Fernandez, and Alvarez, Familia has the luxury of pitching out of the bullpen, where his stuff is able to play up to unfair levels in short bursts. Pair Familia's velocity with a low-separation offspeed offering and you get a pitch that can get up to 95 mph with bottoming-out action.

That pitch to Cesar Hernandez was from Tuesday's game against the Phillies, and the SNY feed provided a good look at Familia's split-finger grip during the replay.

Before Familia added the splitter to his arsenal, he was a pretty darn good reliever. He might not have been an elite Aroldis Chapman or Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller or Craig Kimbrel, but he was firmly in the tier or two below. Adding an equalizer against lefties isn't a guarantee to turn him into an elite relief ace, but it gets him one step closer, and the Mets will certain embrace that as they prepare for a potential playoff run. One thing we do know is that Familia's 94 mph splitter is just another example of how unfair it is to be a hitter in today's game.