If I were to ask you who the best left-handed reliever in the National League is, who would you say? Prior to reading the headline to this article, you would have probably said a lot of players not named Tony Watson, but the truth is, he may be the best lefty reliever in the league.
The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ bullpen isn’t very good as a whole. In fact, if you believe in the value of fWAR, the Pirates’ bullpen is the second-worst in the NL with a -0.1 fWAR. Other than Watson and newly-anointed closer Mark Melancon, the rest of the Pirates’ relievers have had their struggles in 2014.
Watson doesn’t lead the league in any specific pitching categories, but he ranks near the top in many. In 35 innings this year, he has a 0.77 ERA and a 1.97 FIP. He is having a true breakout season, especially with his rate stats. In recent years, Watson has been very good, with ERAs of 3.38, 2.39 and now 0.77 from 2012 to 2014. This season, Watson is getting 11.31 K/9; his previous career-high came in 2012 with 8.94 K/9. His control could be better, however, as he showed last year. His 2.65 BB/9 is probably too high, but when he is getting as many strikeouts as he is, it’s not a major concern.
The interesting thing about Watson is that he may not be a reliever much longer. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington has said that he will consider transitioning Watson into a starter at some point in the future. The lefty spent time in the Pirates’ system as a starter before being switched to a reliever. For now, however, we should enjoy watching Watson enter games in the seventh and eighth innings and dominating opposing batters in high-leverage situations for the Pirates.