Between 2013 and 2015 Tony Watson was as good as any left-handed reliever in baseball not named Aroldis Chapman. However, Tony Watson no longer appears to be that pitcher.
The previous three seasons there were few Pittsburgh Pirates players as reliable as Tony Watson. The Pirates’ left-handed set up man was as good as any left-handed reliever in baseball not named Aroldis Chapman. Seemingly night in and night out for three years Watson took the ball, and did his job.
Tony Watson’s success led to a variety of Twitter hashtags being created for when he pitched. #Elementary has become the most popular of these over the years. However, the 2016 season has been anything but elementary for our dear Watson.
Article continues below ...
As I said above, the previous three seasons Watson was just about automatic. During these three seasons Tony Watson pitched a total of 224 1/3 innings. In these 224 1/3 innings pitched Watson averaged 7.90 K/9, 1.77 BB/9, 0.52 HR/9, and he owned a 1.97 ERA and a 2.91 FIP.
In 2016 though something has happened. Tony Watson has not been himself at all. This leads me to wonder, should the Pirates cut ties with Watson this offseason?
First off, from a baseball stand point it would make sense to shop Tony Watson this offseason. He is slated to become a free agent after the 2017 season, and due to pitchers such as Felipe Rivero, Juan Nicasio, Antonio Bastardo, and A.J. Schugel the bullpen has plenty of quality arms for 2017. The Pirates certainly do not need Tony Watson in 2017.
Secondly, there are Watson’s results this season. In 60 2/3 innings pitched Watson is averaging just 7.27 K/9 (the second lowest number of his career), a career high 1.34 HR/9, and his 2.97 BB/9 is the highest it has been since 2012. All of this has resulted in Watson owning a 4.60 FIP and a 4.42 xFIP this season. Clearly something is not the same with Tony Watson.
Thirdly, and most alarming, there is the drop in velocity from Watson this season. In 2013 Tony Watson’s fastball averaged 93.6 miles per hour, in 2014 it averaged 94.3 miles per hour, and in 2015 it averaged 93.8 miles per hour. In 2016 it is averaging a career low 93.1 miles per hour. The previous career low for Watson was 93.4 miles per hour in 2012.
This drop in velocity has undoubtedly had a huge negative impact on Watson this season. On top of a drop in velocity, his fastballs have always been much more flat in 2016. This is a big reason why he has allowed 9 home runs already, after allowing 13 COMBINED between 2013 and 2015.
A reason for this drop in velocity and increase in flatness from Watson could be the amount of innings he has pitched in recent seasons. The previous three seasons Tony Watson’s has pitched 225 1/3 innings. This season he has tacked another 60 2/3 innings onto his left arm. That is a lot of innings for a reliever to pitch in a four year stretch.
It is not uncommon to see relief pitchers who have compiled a lot of innings go through something like this. Also, Tony Watson is not getting any younger. Believe it or not, he is already 31 years old. Due to the amount of innings he has pitched, his drop in velocity, and the increase in flatness of his pitches I have serious concerns as to rather or not Tony Watson will ever regain his old form.
These concerns are why I would be shopping Tony Watson this offseason if I were Neal Huntington. If no one bites on Watson, I would then hold onto him. However, I would have him start the 2017 season pitching in low leverage situations. There is no way I would have him higher than fifth on the bullpen totem pole.
In my opinion, it is very possible Tony Watson’s left arm is shot. He has done a lot of great things for the Pittsburgh Pirates in recent years, but I wonder if that time is coming to an end. This offseason it might be time for the Pirates to cut ties with Tony Watson.