Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Left-Handed Pitching Free Agent Targets

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 23: Kwang Hyun Kim #33 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on September 23, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Cardinals defeated the Brewers 8-5. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 23: Kwang Hyun Kim #33 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on September 23, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Cardinals defeated the Brewers 8-5. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /
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DENVER, COLORADO – SEPTEMBER 24: Tony Watson #56 of the San Francisco Giants throws against of the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning at Coors Field on September 24, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO – SEPTEMBER 24: Tony Watson #56 of the San Francisco Giants throws against of the Colorado Rockies in the seventh inning at Coors Field on September 24, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Tony Watson

The Pirates are more than familiar with Tony Watson. He was one of their key pieces of the Shark Tank in 2013-2015 and spent a total of 7 seasons as part of the Pirate bullpen. Throughout that time, Watson pitched 433 innings, posting a strong 2.68 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, while making the 2014 All-Star Game and becoming one of the sport’s best left-handed relievers. Plus he was a high-quality set-up man.

The Pittsburgh Pirates traded him at the 2017 trade deadline to the Los Angeles Dodgers for then young infielder Oneil Cruz. Watson became a free agent at the season’s end and signed on with the San Francisco Giants where he would continue being a solid figure in the pen. His next 138 innings from 2018 through 2020 saw him pitch to the tune of a 3.20 ERA, 3.62 FIP, and 1.101 WHIP. While he never reached his early-to-mid 2010’s height, he provided a consistently solid and durable arm for the Giants.

After 2020, he latched on with the Los Angeles Angels and was eventually traded back to the Giants. All told, he pitched 57.1 innings, posted a 3.92 ERA, 3.48 FIP, and 1.01 WHIP. He was great at limiting hard contact, being in the 94th percentile of exit velocity (86 MPH) and hard-hit rate (95th percentile). While Watson may have only had a 19.6% strikeout rate, he had an 8% walk rate and kept home runs at a minimal rate of .63. His outstanding hard-hit numbers paired well with a 45.6% ground ball rate.

The only issue is that his underlying numbers didn’t put Watson in the best of light. He had just a 4.26 SIERA, 4.30 xFIP, and 5.07 DRA. But the only measure on Baseball Savant he was considered below average in was strikeout rate, being in the bottom 22nd percentile. He was well above average in all expected stats, about average in whiff rate, and, as stated earlier, outstanding when it came to inducing soft contact.

The cost for Watson would be relatively low. The Angles were able to sign him for a one-year, $1 million offer. That was after he was released from a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. It probably wouldn’t take any more than $1-3 million to resign the former All-Star set-up man. Watson would pair well as the 8th inning guy to David Bednar. Plus, then the Pirates could have both Cruz and Watson on the 26-man roster, which would end up being a cool outcome of the Pittsburgh Pirates originally trading Watson.

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