Jeurys Familia has been having a remarkable 2016 for the New York Mets, converting his first 36 save opportunities and 52 consecutive attempts dating back to last year, third most in history behind Eric Gagne‘s 84 in 2002-04 and Tom Gordon’s 54 in 1998-99. Gagne won the Cy Young Award for his efforts in 2003, going 55-for-55 in save opportunities and posting a 1.20 ERA.
With all the talk of Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Clayton Kershaw, relievers are not thrown in the conversation. But with the season that Familia is having, he should have been in the talks for the National League Cy Young Award before he blew consecutive saves, thus throwing the idea out the window.
In the history of Major League Baseball, only nine relief pitchers, including two “modern” closers in Gagne and Dennis Eckersley, have ever taken home Cy Young Award honors. Many baseball writers see more value in the starting pitchers than relief guys, and understandably so. Starting pitchers who go out and dominate every fifth day deserve the recognition come awards time, and closers just aren’t as dominant. Fewer innings and more volatile ERAs make people shy away from the real value of a shutdown bullpen guy.
But with a staff with explosive and talented arms, Familia might just be the best pitcher on the Mets staff. As of July 26, Familia owned a 2.47 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 47.1 innings pitched, with the aforementioned 36 saves. While the strikeout total isn’t anything special, he is still getting the job done day in and day out, giving his team a chance to win, and that’s what being a closer is all about.
Gagne’s 2003 season is the best by a closer in baseball history. He pitched to the tune of a 1.20 ERA, 0.692 WHIP, 137 strikeouts, and 55 saves in 82.1 innings. He beat out Jason Schmidt and Mark Prior, who went 17-5, 2.34, 208 K, and 18-6, 2.43, 245K, respectively. Gagne collected 28 first place votes, totaling 146 points in the voting process to win the award easily. Schmidt and Prior had 73 and 60 points, while Russ Ortiz finished out with the remaining nine points. But how does Familia compare to Gagne’s elite season? The numbers are shockingly similar.
Through the end of July, Gagne had converted 35 saves and allowed only 10 runs in 52 innings of work, good for a 1.73 ERA, struck out 86 hitters, and walked 13. Pretty good numbers, which is why he earned the nickname “Game Over.” But Familia has been keeping up with the Canadian-born right hander. Through July 26, Familia had converted all 36 saves and given up 13 runs in 47.1 innings, for a 2.47 ERA, struck out 47, and walked only 18. While he trails Gagne in all of these categories, there’s no arguing how good Familia has been this year. He has escaped out of a lot of situations to help secure victories for the Mets.
Familia has pitched a lot better in July, allowing only one run in nine innings of work over the month before his last two outings. He would have needed to be absolutely lights out the rest of the season and bring his ERA below 2.00 to have a shot at winning this award, just like Gagne was. But these closers saw opposite fates, as Familia blew a 4-3 lead against the Cardinals, then a 1-0 lead against the dismal Rockies the next day. Gagne never blew saves on back-to-back days in his career. Gagne would go on a tear to end the season, giving up just one earned run over his next 30.1 innings to lower his ERA to the final 1.20. Gagne was also used in non-save situations more often than Familia, hence why the innings are a bit higher.
Familia has been one of baseball’s best relief pitchers and closers in 2016, and was on one of the most remarkable streaks in baseball history. But was he good enough to take home baseball’s highest honor for a pitcher, a Cy Young Award? His stats and history show that Familia could have be in contention for the award — maybe even win it — if he had gone perfect this season in saves. There are other pitchers having remarkable years in the National League, and they are all getting the attention and recognition they deserve in regards to the Cy Young. But Familia has been pushed aside because he is not a starting pitcher, and doesn’t have a 0.00 ERA. He has been giving his team a chance to win, and he did his job 52 consecutive times dating back to last season. Can any of the starting pitchers say that?
Had Familia not blown these two saves, it would have been interesting to see if he would have been in contention for the award. He is certainly out of the conversation now, but it would have been cool to have a relief pitcher in the mix for a change. While these two blown saves hurt his chance at an award, they don’t damage the amazing season he has already put together.