Why Tony Watson Could Excel as the Pirates Closer in 2016

By Jason Shetler

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers

p/c: Rick Osentoski – USA Today Sports

One of the main questions for the Pirates this offseason is whether or not Mark Melancon will be traded. The two-time All-Star is coming off a fantastic 2015 campaign in which he posted a 2.23 ERA while converting a Major League best 51 saves. Melancon enters this offseason in his final year of arbitration, and because he’s projected to make around $10 million, the Pirates chances of selling high on him seems like a real possibility. The plan would be for Tony Watson to take over the closers role should Melancon get dealt. Although Watson has yet to be a closer in the big leagues, here are some reasons why I think he could excel in that role.

2013: 2.39 ERA, 150 ERA+, 0.88 WHIP in 67 games

2014: 1.63 ERA, 222 ERA+, 1.02 WHIP in 78 games

2015: 1.91 ERA, 202 ERA+, 0.96 WHIP in 77 games

Watson has done exceptional work over the past three seasons, and has become one of the best relievers not just in the National League, but in all of MLB. Along with the great overall numbers, Watson has looked very strong in high leverage situations over the past couple seasons in the setup role.

2014: .220 batting average against, .532 opponents OPS

2015: .143 batting average against, .461 opponents OPS

In addition to Watson’s solid numbers in high leverage especially this year, he also came through in the clutch. Win Probability Added is a metric that measures how clutch a position player or pitcher is. Watson posted a 4.13 WPA, which was the fifth best ratio among NL pitchers in 2015. The old school argument has been that the closers role is more pressure packed than the eighth inning setup role. I disagree with that theory, as both roles can equally contain high leverage spots. The only difference is that one gets credit for a save while the other doesn’t. It’s not as if Watson just became a good reliever recently. He’s been exceptional for awhile, and shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting as a closer.




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