Two of the best closers in New York Mets history, Armando Benitez and Jeurys Familia, are also two of the least favorite among fans. Which one was actually the better pitcher?
You cannot tell the story of Jeurys Familia without mentioning Armando Benitez. You just can’t. The two New York Mets closers were far too alike in many ways. In appearance alone, both were large men from the Dominican Republic.
Familia is listed at 240 pounds on Baseball-Reference which probably doesn’t account for his recent weight loss. Benitez, meanwhile, has 180 pounds on his Baseball-Reference page. This probably doesn’t account for any weight he put on after age 12.
For a point of reference, Jacob deGrom is 180 pounds.
Benitez and Familia are two closers who were able to get the job done often for the Mets. Benitez had three terrific seasons statistic plus another year and a half of pretty good baseball.
Familia’s legacy with the Mets is quite different. His horrific 2019 campaign is an outlier for all seasons these two men put together combined. Still, his lifetime 3.14 ERA as a member of the Mets is solid.
When we match the two up by numbers, they are pretty close. Who, though, was better?
Benitez vs. Familia
In parts of five seasons with the Mets, Benitez saved 160 games with a 2.70 ERA. Familia, through parts of eight seasons, is at 123 saves with a 3.14 ERA.
There are some obvious reasons why there’s a large difference.
Believe it or not, Familia only logged full-time duties as the Mets closer twice. In 2015 and 2016, he was the man Terry Collins turned to shut to shut the door. Prior to that, he was the setup man from Jenrry Mejia. After 2016, injuries and a midseason trade took away his chance to add to the saves total.
In terms of run-prevention and saves, Benitez has a clear advantage.
Strikeouts are another big part of a closer’s game. Going into this, I expected Familia to have a much higher strikeout rate. Players are fanning much more often now than they were at the turn of the century.
Well, that’s not how it is.
Benitez’s time with the Mets included a strikeout rate of 11.8 per nine innings. Familia is at only 9.3. It’s good, but not “closer good.”
Other than Familia’s 51 saves which set a franchise record, I’m not sure there’s much to cling to in his favor. What about comparing the two best ERA seasons?
Oddly enough, the best ERA either of these pitchers had in a Mets uniform included an identical 1.85 ERA. Familia achieved this in 2015. Benitez’s was in 1999.
For the final measure worth looking at, ERA+ can help us tell how effective a pitcher was in a multitude of statistics. Yet again, Benitez has a distinct advantage.
Benitez’s 159 ERA+ crushes Familia’s 122. To obliterates it. It smashes it beneath his cleat.
For the final challenge, we go to the postseason. Familia’s reputation in October causes plenty of pain for Mets fans. Between quick-pitch attempt in the 2015 World Series and his loss in the 2016 Wild Card Game, he left scars.
Benitez, on the other hand, was far more effective for the Mets in the postseason. While far from perfect, he didn’t take one on the chin as badly as Familia. Allowing a sacrifice fly to tie things up in the ninth in Game One of the 2000 World Series is one of his worst moments.
These two Mets closers will be linked forever because of the two eras they represented. Both were the closers on World Series losing squads and each flirted with danger plenty.
Side-by-side, Benitez looks to be the better pitcher.
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However, if you ask me who I would like to pitch the ninth inning for one big out, I would ask you who else is available.