The Giants continued pushing hard for the 2018 season by signing left-handed reliever Tony Watson on Friday night. Watson received a three-year-deal and will paid $7 million over the duration of the contract.
Watson excelled for years as a high-leverage left-handed pitcher in the Pittburgh Pirates bullpen, producing as a key cog for several playoff teams (2013-2015). A midseason trade in 2017 sent Watson to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he posted a 2.70 ERA in 20 regular season innings and tossed seven postseason innings with a 2.57 ERA.
Since he debuted in 2011, Watson has posted a 2.68 ERA, which is the 32nd best mark among qualified relievers in that timeframe. The 32-year-old lefty has accomplished this despite a rather pedestrian 14.8 K-BB percentage and 44.3 percent groundball rate. Watson has dominated in one area, however, that has led to his astounding success in the big leagues.
Watson has excelled by inducing loads of weak contact due to a quirky arm angle from the left-hand side. Since the statcast era began in 2015, he has posted elite weak contact results on an annual basis. Watson ranked fifth (82.6 mph) in average exit velocity allowed in 2017, 25th in 2016 (84.9 mph) and 21st (84.9 mph) in 2015. He’s allowed hitters to hit just a measly .223/.287/.344 against him.
It’s worth noting that Watson has seen his numbers dip in each of the last four seasons. The lefty has seen both his ERA and FIP rise each of the last four seasons while also throwing less innings in each succeeding year. Last year’s 3.38 ERA was Watson’s highest total since 2012 and his 4.45 FIP was a career worst mark.
Watson, however, will provide quality left-handed production out of the Giants bullpen. His effectiveness vs lefties (career .212/.276/.298 line) and ability to handle right-handed batters (career .286 wOBA) makes him a potential high-leverage option for the Giants. Will Smith, the other lefty reliever, is out until at least May, which means Watson could represent the only left-handed reliever to start the year. He’ll join a unit consisting of Mark Melancon, Hunter Strickland, Sam Dyson and Cory Gearrin.