Entering the 2021 season, two of the biggest question marks on the New York Mets roster were relievers Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances. Once two of the most dominant pitchers in MLB, both men saw their careers take a dive in 2019. Since then, each has struggled to recapture their old form and as a result, the Mets have suffered. Now with World Series aspirations, the Mets can’t afford to have two weak links taking up space in their bullpen. While both men are still guaranteed hefty paydays this year, their on-field performance will ultimately decide how many chances they get before they’re gone.
A Forgettable 2020
Though a lot went wrong in the 2020 season, Familia’s and Betances’ struggles were among the worst offenders.
Familia, the former anchor of the Mets’ bullpen, actually had a respectable 3.71 ERA last season. Upon closer inspection, however, he pitched much worse than his ERA would suggest. Familia’s 4.49 xERA is only the tip of the iceberg, as he put up his worst walk (6.4 BB/9) and strikeout (7.8 K/9) numbers since 2013. These issues culminated in a 4.92 FIP and 1.463 WHIP. Likewise, a .247 BABIP (.300 being average) solidifies just how lucky Familia got in 2020.
With Betances, things are much more cut and dry. After shoulder, lat and Achilles injuries wiped out his 2019, he made just 15 appearances in an injury riddled 2020. In that time, the man who effortlessly used to hit 100 mph with his fastball was barely reaching 93 mph. Betances also had extreme control issues, resulting in a walk rate that actually exceeded his strikeout rate (9.3 BB/9 vs. 8.5 K/9), and a 4.91 FIP and 2.057 WHIP.
Making matters worse for both men is how much depth the Mets now have. Currently, the team has over half a dozen viable relievers stashed away in the minors and the alternate site. Leading this group are Arodys Vizcaino and Drew Smith. Both impressed in Spring Training after successfully coming back from their own injuries. Had a couple more minor ailments not delayed their return, both would have likely earned spots on the Opening Day roster. Furthermore, they also fill Familia’s and Betances’ original roles as hard throwing setup men.
Beyond these two are several young arms looking for a shot in the majors. Chief among them are Sam McWilliams, Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz, and Thomas Szapucki. While each is originally a starting pitcher, their career trajectories all hint at becoming solid multi-inning relievers. Strong performances from any of them could result in even less slack given to Familia and Betances.
Another unfortunate truth for Familia and Betances is that both are in the final years of their contracts. This year, Familia is earning $10 million and Betances is due $6 million. While having $16 million in dead money isn’t ideal, it’s not an insurmountable total like with Robinson Cano ($48 million from 2022-23). As a result, upper management might choose to take the hit and cut both men before their performance costs the team too many wins. In the long run, if the Mets do make a deep playoff run this year, the $16 million hit will be almost completely negated.
A Foreboding 2021
So far, neither man has instilled much confidence in their abilities this season. Familia has pitched 2.2 innings over four appearances and is looking just as erratic as before. Allowing five hits and two walks vs. just two strikeouts, all while giving up two runs isn’t the most encouraging start. One silver lining is that his velocity, spin rate and pitch movement are all in line with his 2015-16 averages. However, the same was true of 2020 as well.
In the end, Familia might deserve a few more chances than Betances, if only because of his legacy with the team. He’ll always be remembered for his electric 2015-16 run, and part of that energy may still be inside him. If he keeps showing the same high velocity and ability to limit hard contact, the Mets may try to use him in mostly low-leverage situations to see if he can regain his control. Should he fail to do so after a handful of appearances, don’t be surprised to see him gone by the end of May.
As for Betances, he only pitched one inning back on April 7 before hitting the IL with a shoulder ailment. He didn’t impress in that one inning either. First, he walked the leadoff man, then hit another before ultimately giving up a run. His velocity is also even worse than last year as he barely hit 92 mph.
If Betances does come back and he remains just as ineffective, the Mets likely won’t be as patient with him as Familia. It might only take a couple of appearances before the team decides its done with Betances and cuts him mid-May.
Look, no one wants to see guys fail in the majors. In fact it would make every Mets fan absolutely ecstatic if Familia and Betances pitched like their old selves. But at the end of the day, it’s just looking less and less likely that either man will be able to contribute this year.
Featured Image Courtesy of MLB.com
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