After a long and for the New York Mets specifically, rather bizarre winter, things are back to normal: pitchers and catchers are officially reporting for duty in Port St. Lucie on Monday. With that likely comes a number of feel-good stories about players looking to turn things around. Or, there are those who have reported to camp in the best shape of their professional baseball life.
Those story lines wont be limited to just the Mets, of course there will be many of those stories being told all over Florida and Arizona in advance of Opening Day next month. Reliever Jeurys Familia is firmly in the best shape of my life camp since hes spent the offseason shedding a ton of weight (30 pounds, to be exact).
Familia completely transforming his body over the last few months was the best remedy to put a horrific 2019 campaign in the rearview mirror. Expected to be a crucial cog with Edwin Diaz at the backend of ballgames, the right-hander was worth -0.2 fWAR thanks in part to a 5.70 ERA and 15.3% walk rate. With both him and Diaz having a bounce-back performance on their respective minds for 2020 to go along with the signing of Dellin Betances, that spurred Familia to say the Mets have baseballs best bullpen heading into this season.
Of course, one of his statements begin with the usual If everybody is healthy, which we all know is a big if each year for New York. If manager Luis Rojas relief corps is going to make good on Familias statement and offseason projections, the 30-year-old has to get himself back into form.
Losing all that weight gives us an idea of how serious Familia is about bouncing back, but thats far from the most important development when talking about the progress hes made this offseason. Its this quote from general manager Brodie Van Wagenen that caught my eye, which was captured by theNew York Post and mentioned again on Sunday by MMOs Rob Piersall:
Jeurys has been a man on a mission this offseason. He has worked with our health and performance department to improve in every aspect of his preparation. In addition to losing weight, he has spent time with [pitching coach] Jeremy Hefner to better understand his mechanics and his approach. He has been throwing off the mound at Citi Field since before the holidays.
Getting trimmer as Familia has is a worthy exercise that will hopefully boost his on-field performance, but it wouldnt have meant nearly as much if he hadnt paired that with working on his mechanics and committing it all to muscle memory with Hefner at the same time. When a player loses a significant amount of weight, there are a lot of physiological changes that happen with their rhythm, balance, and just general feel for what theyre doing. Familia mentioned such himself when talking about the extra weight he carried during 2019 negatively impacted him (also viathe New York Post):
Ive never had a year like that. Gaining weight affected my delivery to the plate and messed up my rhythm, which is why I started training to take the weight off this offseason.
This time around, Familia made sure the mechanics of his motion evolved as the pounds melted off. That could be key toward a turnaround in 2020, and either way, its clear Hefner has already been putting in a lot of work with certain members of this pitching staff to set them up for success.
What will be most crucial with these improved mechanics will be the performance of Familias four-seam fastball and sinker, two of his three most-used pitches last season. His slider (the second-most used pitch) was easily the best of his arsenal that offering produced a 51 opponent wRC+ to go along with a 6.5% walk rate and 40.3% strikeout rate.
His four-seamer and sinker, though? Both struggled considerably. The right-handers four-seamer generated a 21.1% strikeout and walk rate, while opposing hitters posted a 216 wRC+. His sinker wasnt much better: hitters finished with a lower 151 wRC+, but it was accompanied by an 18.3% walk rate and 14.5% strikeout rate.
Upon peeking at his career pitch split numbers, its not as if these two pitches have been utterly dominant, but theyve been much better than what they were this past year (opponent wRC+ marks of 118 and 95, respectively). A better overall performance from these two offerings will likely lead to even better numbers for his slider (29 opponent wRC+ with a 4.8% walk rate and 47.0% strikeout rate for his career).
Despite the rough season-long numbers for his four-seamer and sinker, there was some improvement between the first and second half of 2019. While the value of these pitches were bunched together under his fastball, FanGraphs tabbed the per-100-pitch value of this area as going from -1.23 prior to the All-Star break to -0.88 following the midsummer classic. Nothing huge, but its at least progress.
While its easy to get in the gym and be on a nutrition plan that yields terrific physical results, any professional athlete needs to pair that with the repetition of whatever their athletic endeavor is to truly make a difference moving forward. Two of the Mets most crucial bullpen hurlers Familia and Diaz have seemingly paid a lot of attention to that this winter.
Now they just have to stay healthy and actually perform up to expectation in the coming months.
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Familia's Weight Loss Won't Be What Leads to His Success - metsmerizedonline.com