What Happened In 2017: Began as Pittsburgh’s closer, struggled, lost the job, Dodgers acquired him in a trade and (kinda) fixed him.
Tony Watson had long been on the Dodgers’ radar, as they tried to acquire him back at the 2016 trade deadline to no avail. However, with the Pirates out of contention at the 2017 deadline, the Dodgers pounced and acquired him for prospects Oneil Cruz and Angel German.
At the time, it looked like a “meh” move because of Watson’s struggles. He had gone from a being one of the game’s most underrated lefties to fungible rather quickly. As you can see by the numbers above, Watson was struggling — particularly with the home run ball. He also stopped missing bats, which is is usually a bad sign. Chad wasn’t a fan of the deal at the time.
“If that looks like potential disaster it’s because it definitely could be, and quite frankly, I kind of expect it to be. However, there are some positives to latch onto. Since being removed from a late-inning role this year, Watson has posted a 1.72 ERA in 18 games and 15.2 innings. Furthermore, Watson does still seem to be effective against lefties despite the uptick in OPS against, as the main cause of that is a .385 BABIP against. In terms of stuff, there’s some things to like, as Watson’s velocity hasn’t tailed off with him still averaging 92-95 mph on his fastball, and he rounds out the rest of his arsenal with a slider around 84-86 and a change around 85-87.”
Watson was a reclamation project that Rick Honeycutt and company undertook in hopes of turning him around, and it started with pitch selection. Chad pointed it out in an article almost three weeks after the deadline.
“Watson’s acquisition was interesting in that I was looking forward to seeing what changes the Dodgers might make in an attempt to get him back to prior form. Well the answer appears to be using the sinker more to get ground balls, paired with reducing four-seam usage a lot and amping up the slider usage. We’ll see if that choice actually ends up helping his home-run prevention or not, which has been an issue.”
With the Pirates, he used his 4-seam fastball/sinker the most (65.2 percent), followed by his changeup (19.9) and slider (15.0). At the time of Chad’s article, Watson had increased his slider usage by more than double and reduced his 4-seam and changeup usage. But by season’s end, it had essentially reverted back to what it was before the trade. Still, Watson’s time with the Dodgers was good and he did show improvement — especially when it came to getting strikeouts.
If folks remember one thing about Watson’s Dodger tenure, it has to be this unlikely grand slam he allowed to Jake Lamb.
That launch angle (40.5 degrees) and exit velocity (92.8 MPH) doesn’t usually equal home run distance. In fact, this was the only combination of launch angle and exit velo to result in a home run in the majors in 2017. Other than that, Watson only gave up one other home run while with the Dodgers, and he ended up being Dave Roberts‘ go-to lefty out of the bullpen. Watson allowed just three runs (two earned) in seven postseason innings, including just one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings pitched in the World Series.
2018 Status: Free agent. Watson should be able to land a multi-year deal on the open market. I wouldn’t be opposed to him coming back on a 2-year, $10-12 million deal, but that seems unlikely.