During one of the most successful four year stretches in Pittsburgh Pirates franchise history, left-handed reliever Tony Watson simply took the ball and did his job for the Bucs
He was quiet. He was not flashy. He did not possess a 100 MPH fastball. However, from 2012 – 2015, Tony Watson simply took the ball and did his job. In doing so, the former Pittsburgh Pirates reliever make one of the best bullpen arms in all of baseball.
On Pirates Twitter, the saying started. Watson would so routinely, and effortlessly, retire opposing batters that when he finished his outing Pirate fans would Tweet it out – “Tony Watson took the ball, and did his job.” Watson never refused to take the ball, and rarely would he fail at doing his job on the mound.
Watson’s work often times came off as methodical. He rarely showed emotion on the mound, good or bad, and possessed a death stare he would give hitters that you love to see in a reliever. This approach on the mound made Watson’s success all that more enjoyable for Pittsburgh Pirates fans.
During this four year stretch the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the most successful teams in baseball. They won 359 games, and went to the postseason three times. Watson played a major role in this success.
Watson made his MLB debut in 2011, and then rose to become one of Clint Hurdle’s top high leverage arms in 2012. From 2012 – 2015, Watson pitched 277.2 innings for the Pirates. In these 277.2 innings of work he posted a 2.24 ERA, 3.05 FIP, a 0.58 HR/9, 6.1% walk rate, and a 22.9% strikeout rate.
During these four years Watson was a work horse for the Pirates. He ranked 3rd among MLB relievers in innings pitched over the course of these four seasons. Among MLB relievers with at least 200 innings of work, his 2.24 ERA ranked 7th.
Watson was so good that he was a National League All-Star in 2014. This is an impressive feat for any player, but for a reliever that is not a closer? That rarely happens. Especially on a team that has multiple All-Stars.
In that 2014 season Watson posted a career low 1.63 ERA and 2.69 FIP. He posted those career lows while logging a career best 77.1 innings of work. His 26.6% strikeout rate was also a career best.
During that 2014 season Mark Melancon permanently took over as the Pirates closer as Watson became his primary set up man. Melancon and Watson would spend the 2014 and 2015 seasons as one of the most dominant bullpen duos in all of baseball. When the Pirates got a lead to Watson in the 8th, the game was essentially over.
While he was still a good reliever, you could see the innings load of those four seasons start to catch up to Watson in 2016. He posted a 3.06 ERA and a 4.37 FIP, the latter of which was his highest since his rookie season.
During the 2016 season Watson became the team’s closer after Melancon was traded to the Washington Nationals in July. This was a role Watson would keep through the season and start the 2017 season with. However, after struggling Watson was removed form the closer’s role in May before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July. This trade ended Watson’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and also netted the team one of the top prospects in all of baseball – Oneil Cruz.
Watson would sign with the San Francisco Giants following the 2017 season. After a strong bounce back campaign in 2018, he posted a career worst 4.17 ERA, 4.81 FIP, and -0.3 fWAR in 2019. While Watson’s career may be in its twilight stage, never forget that with the Pittsburgh Pirates he simply took the ball and did his job.