The set-up man is a key role in the bullpen. Someone has to deliver the 9th inning to the closing pitcher effectively. For the better part of a decade, Tony Watson was a lights out set-up man for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He then took his talents to the West Coast, pitching for multiple California teams. But given that Watson never took over a closing pitcher role for more than part of a season, and was almost always given a 7th/8th inning role, Watson racked up a ton of holds.
Over the course of 11 big league seasons, Watson pitched to a 2.90 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP. For ten years in a row, Watson posted an ERA+ of at least 100, meaning that for a decade, he was better than the league average pitcher in run prevention. He was also extremely durable, pitching 50+ innings in all but two of his seasons (one of those seasons was the shortened 2020).
Watson’s best season was in 2014 when he pitched to a 1.63 ERA, 2.69 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP in 77.1 innings. Along with that, he struck out 26.3% of opponents faced and had just a 4.9% walk rate and 0.58 HR/9. This was his single-season best ERA, FIP, innings total, strikeout rate, and K:BB ratio at 5.4.
Because of Watson’s longevity, he was able to rack up a total of 246 holds, which outpaces Arthur Rhodes by 15. There’s not any players currently within striking distance of Watson either, so his record is likely safe for at least the foreseeable future. Of Watson’s 648.1 career innings, 334.1 came in the 8th inning. However, this isn’t the only record Watson holds, no pun intended.
Watson racked up 41 holds in 2015, which ties him with Joel Peralta in 2013 for the most in a single season. During that year, Watson pitched to a 1.91 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and 0.96 WHIP in 75.1 innings. Watson only had a 21.2% strikeout rate, but just a 5.8% walk rate, and 0.36 HR/9, the final number of which was a career best. Watson helped Mark Melancon set a record of his own, saving 51 games, en route to the most saves by a Pirates pitcher in franchise history.