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Pirates Will Be Fine With Tony Watson As Closer in 2017

Tony Watson will be a solid replacement at closer in 2017. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Tony Watson will be a solid replacement at closer in 2017.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I was surprised when the Pirates brought Mark Melancon back for his final year of team control this past offseason.  I was fairly convinced that at his eventual salary ($9.6M), he would be too pricey for the Pirates, yet he would still be appealing to plenty of teams around the league as either as closer or expensive setup man.

But Neal Huntington did not find an offer he liked and the Pirates decided to go once more into the fray with Mark Melancon as the closer and Tony Watson as the primary setup man.  As unlikely as it was to bring Melancon back at $9.6M, it’s highly unlikely that the Pirates will retain his services after this season.  It’s not in their nature to sign relievers for the 3-4 years that Melancon is sure to command on the open market, to say nothing of the salary commitment that he is due to receive.  It’s not too hard to envision a 3 yr/$30-33M deal in his future.

Tony Watson will be entering his final year of team control in the 2017 season, but with arbitration awards based on old-school counting stats, Watson won’t have a pile of shiny saves to drive his value up.  His arb-1 salary was $1.75M and his current salary this season is $3.45M, so I would roughly project him (based on the 25%/40%/60% arb scales we studied) to be around $5.5M for 2017.

Watson endured an awful April, which historically is his worst month over the course of his career, and that has affected his overall stats so far this year.  In both April and May, though, Watson’s walk rates (4.26 BB/9 in April and 3.oo BB/9 in May) are far higher than numbers he has posted for the past three seasons (1.51 BB/9 in 2013, 1.75 BB/9 in 2014, 2.03 BB/9 in 2015).  It remains to be seen where he will end up in 2016, but it is hard to envision him getting it anywhere below 2.5 BB/9 at this point.

Typically, teams are reticent to use a left-handed pitcher as a closer, due to the inherent nature of splits and the fact that most hitters are typically right-handed.  For Watson, though, there is virtually no difference in his splits versus left-handed and right-handed batters.

  • v. LHB — .199 AVG/.270 OBP/.283 SLG, 7.84 K/9, 2.34 BB/9
  • v. RHB — .207 AVG/.278 OBP/.335 SLG, 8.19 K/9, 2.64 BB/9

Watson’s fastball has plenty of life on it at 93 mph (which when you add the lefty bonus of 1-2 mph, plays like a 94-95 mph from a right-hander) and his 85 mph changeup is effective against righties, leading to his lack of platoon splits.  In fact, his changeup is historically his best pitch at a career-rate of +2.09 runs per 100 pitches thrown, with 2016 coming in at +2.87/100 pitches.

For the low price of $5.5M, the Pirates will be able to secure a top-tier reliever to function as their closer next year.  Now as for the year after that?  There aren’t any good options behind Watson, but that’s a problem (and an article) for another day.

About Kevin Creagh (172 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

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