Bats: Left – Throws: Left
Born: May 30, 1985 (Age-32)
2017 Stats: 71 G, 7-4 Record, 3.38 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 1.380 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 0.9 WAR
Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed reliever Tony Watson is set to hit free agency this offseason.
Watson, 32, has been one of the more consistent and reliable arms over the past several seasons, having pitched in at least 70 games for his fourth consecutive year in ’17.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the ninth round of the 2007 MLB Draft, Watson was initially a starter in the Pirates’ system, climbing up the ladder to Double-A before transitioning to the pen. The southpaw made his debut in 2011 and ultimately went on to a be a valuable arm in the back-end of the bullpen during his seven seasons with the Pirates.
The 6 feet 4 inches tall Watson had inherited the closer’s role once Mark Melancon was dealt to the Washington Nationals at the 2016 trade deadline. However, manager Clint Hurdle removed Watson from that role in early June of this year. The 32-year-old converted his first seven save opportunities to start the year, however, from May 3 to June 7, Watson had blown five of eight save opportunities over 15 games, with opponents posting a .912 OPS against him, while clubbing five home runs.
To his credit, Watson took the move in stride, as he worked to a 2.66 ERA and allowed just one home run over his final 23 games with Pittsburgh before he was traded to the Dodgers at the trade deadline.
Watson was acquired by Los Angeles on July 31st for two low-level Pittsburgh Pirates’ prospects, helping to shore up their bullpen. Watson’s splits between Pittsburgh and LA were significant, as he posted a 3.66 ERA in 47 games with the Pirates, averaging 6.8 K/9. In LA, Watson lowered his ERA by nearly a run (2.70) in 24 games, while averaging 8.1 K/9.
Since 2012, Watson’s second season in the majors, he’s second to only Bryan Shaw (442) in games with 431, third in innings pitched at 412, while posting a 2.56 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. In terms of his righty/lefty splits, Watson has previous success of handling both. Below are his splits since 2012:
2012- RHH OPS: .691 LHH OPS: .554
2013- RHH OPS: .582 OPS LHH OPS: .483
2014- RHH OPS: .646 LHH OPS: .531
2015- RHH OPS: .536 OPS LHH OPS: .493
When viewing his most recent splits, however, Watson has seen sharp increases in both handedness, as righties have posted an OPS of .711 and .808 in ’16 and ’17, and a .577 and .691 OPS against left-handed hitters. Though, if you look at his most recent numbers after the mid-season trade with LA, Watson’s splits were more in line with his dominant four-year stretch, but with better numbers against right-handed hitters: .568 OPS against RHH and a .651 OPS against LHH.
Watson features a four-pitch repertoire: four-seam fastball, sinker, slider and changeup. He relied on his sinker in ’17 more than he has in recent years, at 36.01 percent of the time according to Brooks Baseball. That aided in him posting his highest ground ball percentage of his career this season (47.8), with the Dodgers placing a heavy emphasis on using his sinker more. The numbers don’t lie, as the left-hander was throwing his sinker 29.3 percent of the time while with Pittsburgh, to then throwing it 44.7 percent while with LA. With the Pirates, Watson’s ground ball rate was at 43.6 percent, with LA it rose to 59.3 percent.
It’s also interesting to note that Watson posted his highest BABIP of his career in 2017 at .317, compared to his .237 the previous year. If you look closer at his splits, he had a higher BABIP while with Pittsburgh (.340) compared to the 24 games he appeared in with the Dodgers (.250). This might also correlate with the better overall defense the Dodgers had this season, as the team was second in baseball in defensive runs saved with 48, while the Pirates were 13th with 15 DRS. Watson appears a likely candidate for regression to the mean.
He also comes with postseason experience out of the pen, appearing in the playoffs with the Pirates in 2013 and 2015 and with the Dodgers this season. Watson has appeared in a total of 16 playoff games, owning a 2.25 ERA over 12 innings pitched with a 0.917 WHIP.
Watson’s contract will likely be in line with two lefty relievers who reached free agency last offseason: Brett Cecil and Mike Dunn. Cecil signed a four-year, $30.5 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, while Dunn signed a 3-year, $19 million contract with an option for 2020 that could push the total contract value to $24 million with the Colorado Rockies.
Watson’s peripherals compare better than the two aforementioned lefties. Take a look at the comparisons below, omitting Cecil’s and Dunn’s ’17 seasons and only looking at their pre-free agent years.
Dunn: 434 G, 3.54 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.365 WHIP, 4.4 BB/9
Cecil: 243 G, 2.90 ERA, 141 ERA+, 1.166 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9 (excluded 2009-12 as Cecil started 74 of his 87 games)
Watson: 474 G, 2.68 ERA, 144 ERA+, 1.086 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9
The one knock is age, as Watson will be turning 33 at the end of May, while Cecil was signed prior to his age-31 season, and Dunn prior to his age-32 year. I still envision a plethora of teams seeking Watson’s services, especially after his turnaround while with the Dodgers. I envision a 3-year offer for $23-25 million.
The Mets should keep tabs on Watson throughout the offseason. In a perfect world, the Mets would add two solid back end relievers this winter, preferably one right-hander and one lefty. Pairing the veteran with holdovers Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia looks solid on paper, especially considering that Watson fares well for his career against opposite handed hitters. Add in the fact that the Mets should be better defensively in the infield with a full season of Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith and possible upgrades at third or second base, which would bode well for Watson and his increased usage of his sinker along with improved ground ball rate.
With the Mets’ ’18 payroll in flux, Sandy Alderson and crew might find Watson’s price tag prohibitive. Instead, they might look at cheaper left-handed options like Brian Duensing, Mike Minor, or Jorge De La Rosa as alternatives.