PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Presumably, the Mets will be one of several contending teams in a stacked National League East this season. The theory is that if the Mets stay healthy, they should be a force in what may end up as one of the most compelling of the
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Presumably, the Mets will be one of several contending teams in a stacked National League East this season. The theory is that if the Mets stay healthy, they should be a force in what may end up as one of the most compelling of the six division races.
But there are "ifs" attached -- a lot of them. And many exist in the Mets' bullpen, where prominent names and sterling track records will only go so far.
The bullpen should be good -- if.
If Dellin Betances finds an uptick in velocity and command and shows he's completely past his injury issues, especially with respect to his Achilles. If Edwin Diaz can bounce back from a terrible 2019, rediscover the devastating slider that once pushed him to prominence and claim the closer role in '20.
And if Jeurys Familia produces numbers resembling something close to the 2.42 ERA he compiled from 2014-17, rather than what he provided last year – a 5.70 ERA, and a 1.73 WHIP.
"My job here is to be better," Familia said before the Mets' 3-1 win over the Astros on Sunday. "It's not to be better than any other teammate -- it's just always been more of a personal goal to continue on and be better every single year."
Familia has taken steps to ensure he'll be a force in the 'pen this season. He dropped around 30 pounds over the winter to 240, which has helped with flexibility and, as a result, has had positive effects on the fluidity of his delivery. He also lived in New Jersey during the offseason, allowing him to stay close to the Mets' training staff.
And, perhaps most importantly, he has worked extensively with new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner to change the grip on his split-fingered pitch in an effort to give it a new look, and to differentiate it more from the sinker. In the past, there hasn't been much of a difference in velocity from one pitch to the next. Now, the splitter is slower, giving him a new look to his arsenal without necessarily having to add a brand new pitch.
So far, Familia is happy with the results.
"The biggest difference between my splitter and sinker was velocity, and how I throw it," Familia said. "Right now the velocity [on the splitter] is probably about 8 miles an hour less than what I usually throw it. I think it's been really good for me. Now hitters don't know what to expect, and I feel like that drop-off has helped me a lot."
An 8-mph difference between the two would be significant compared to the past three seasons. According to Statcast, Familia's split-finger was anywhere from 3.3 to 4.9 mph slower on average than his sinker from 2017-19. If he's successful with his new methods, the difference would be about twice that.
"He's really happy with how his split has been working," manager Luis Rojas said. "The depth of it is the most he's had in his career with the new grip. It plays really well off his fastball. I'm very impressed with his stuff."
Judging just by Grapefruit League results, Familia appears to be on to something. While Spring Training results aren't necessarily the best forecasters of regular-season results, they are, by default, the only barometer available to evaluate players this time of year. So far, the results have been mostly favorable.
Familia was hit around a bit in his most recent outing against the Nationals on Saturday on a cool and windy day in Port St. Lucie, allowing four hits and a homer in one inning of work. But before that, Familia was mostly flawless in three appearances, holding opponents scoreless while yielding a pair of hits and walks.
"For me, this has been the best Spring Training of my career," Familia said. "I've been prepared, I've been getting the results that I've wanted, and so far it's been really good for me."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.