Minnesota Twins: 10 possible undervalued free agent pitchers to pursue
Tony Watson, LHRP
Age on Opening Day: 32
2017 Salary: $5.6 million
2017 Stats: 71 G, 66 2/3 IP, 7-4, 10 saves, 3.38 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.9% BB, 18.2% K
Info: A dominant reliever for a number of years with the Pirates before 2017, when he was affected by a high BABIP (.340) in his time with the Pirates to lead to a high amount of hits allowed, even though he still had a good walk rate. Once Watson went to the Dodgers, his BABIP normalized, and the numbers with the Dodgers (24 G, 20 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 3.8% BB, 11.5% K) were much more like the previous Watson seen.
Watson is a lefty who has stayed similar for years, working with an impressive sinker/slider/change three-pitch mix, using his four-seam fastball as a seeming 4th pitch, using the two fastballs in almost 65% of his pitches, splitting his pitches in 2017 between his slider and his change. Watson’s change is a plus change, and previously, the change has been used nearly twice as much as the slider.
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In watching Watson work with the Dodgers, it was clear that this is the same pitcher who has been an elite reliever for 7 years now, making an All-Star game, and posting a 2.68 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, a 6.9% BB rate, and a 21.8% K rate. While he’s not quite the strikeout artist that he once was, Watson has always been a guy who generated a ton of weak contact and ground ball contact.
Watson tends to see about 80% of his balls as ground balls and fly balls, not getting a ton of line drives, and he keeps hard contact rates low, not posting over a 25% hard hit rate since 2012 (it was 22.5% last season).
Because he’s not been a closer for a full season (though he was for the majority of one if you count his final two months of 2016 and first two months of 2017 combined), Watson very feasibly will not end up getting seen as a closer, but as much as Brandon Kintzler was a closer with his stuff, Watson could certainly be one, and the Twins have experience using a lefty closer before.
Next: Twins early offseason moves
The Twins could make a push for Watson, and if he wanted a chance to prove himself as a closer, they could do something like 2 years, $22 million. I would wager he would prefer to have years over annual salary, however, so perhaps something like 3/$30M with a team/vesting option to bring the contract to 4/$42 with a $2M buyout, guaranteeing him $32M.