Pittsburgh Pirates: Tony Watson’s 2017 Salary Decided


News: The Pittsburgh Pirates reached agreements with all of their arbitration-eligible players before the deadline except one.  Tony Watson decided to pass on the Bucs offer and go to arbitration.

Over the last few years, Tony Watson has been one of the best bargains in baseball.  In his six years as a Pittsburgh Pirates reliever, he has amassed a very solid resume and typically at a bargain price. Watson has 386 1/3 career innings pitched so far.  He has compiled an 8.04 K/9 rate, 2.49 BB/9 rate, and a 0.79 HR/9 rate.  Also, he owns a 3.4 career WAR, currently the highest career WAR in the Pirate bullpen. Watson also owns a career earned run average of 2.56, a FIP of 3.45, and a xFIP is 3.69.  All around pretty solid numbers.

However, this is where the problem was created in the arbitration process. Watson, who filed at $6 million, with career numbers like he has, $6 million should not seem like a stretch.  Unfortunately for Watson, he is coming off his worst season since his rookie year.   After back-to-back sub-2.00 ERA years, Watson’s ERA went to 3.09.  In his 67 2/3 innings pitched, Watson allowed a career-high ten home runs.  He also posted a 4.37 FIP, which was the second highest of his career, next to his 2011 rookie campaign. If you don’t remember Watson’s rookie season, it was not very pretty.

The real issue, is that Watson struggled with his command in 2016.  Watson had a 2.33 BB/9  which was his highest since 2012.  This poor control could also explain the reason his home run total went up.  Watson has success when he is keeping his pitches low in the zone.  Often times, Watson seemed up in the zone when he was missing his target.  As most baseball fans know, flat fastballs up in the zone are typically either crushed, or if taken, are called for a ball. He especially struggled when he was moved into the closer role after the Mark Melancon trade.

Too many innings?

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The issue may be with the number of innings Watson has totaled over the last few years.  From 2013 through 2015, Watson averaged almost 74 innings pitched, a pretty large number for a relief pitcher. In general, Watson may be starting to regress due to his arm being overworked thus far in his career.

With all this being said, Watson did himself no favors in 2016 to earn what he wanted to for 2017.  The Pittsburgh Pirates filed at $5.6 million for arbitration.  As mentioned earlier, Tony Watson wanted six million dollars.  The difference was only $400,000, but the Pittsburgh Pirates run under a strict ‘”file and trial” policy.  This means, once a player decides to go to arbitration, they will not negotiate a one-year salary figure, they will wait for the arbitration hearing.  The hearing occurred on February 15th. The arbitration panel decided in the Pittsburgh Pirates favor.

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Tony Watson is entering his final year under his entry level contract.  Many speculated that the Bucs could look to shop Watson in the offseason.  If they did, they were not able to find a deal to their liking.  If the Bucs are out of contention come the trade deadline, Watson will be a very likely trade candidate.  Either way, the Bucs will hope Watson will rebound some from his 2016 season. If he does, the Bucs will be getting a bargain for a quality pitcher at $5.6 million, something they obviously are comfortable paying him.