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San Francisco Giants: Time to worry about Tony Watson?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 03: Pitcher Tony Watson #56 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the eighth inning of the MLB game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 03, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Giants 5-3. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 03: Pitcher Tony Watson #56 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the eighth inning of the MLB game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 03, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Giants 5-3. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /
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Despite strong numbers overall, San Francisco Giants reliever Tony Watson is displaying some concerning trends. Is it time to worry?

On the surface, lefty reliever Tony Watson has been great this season with a 2.70 ERA in 22 appearances pitching in a setup role for the San Francisco Giants.

However, that strong ERA comes with some concerning, beneath-the-surface numbers that may suggest regression is coming. Hopefully, the Giants can find a trade partner before this occurs.

The Giants signed Watson to a two-year, $7 million contract that includes a club option for 2020 during spring training in 2018.

Then general manager Bobby Evans negotiated a contract that allowed the team to stay under the luxury tax threshold. However, the contract does include performance escalators that increase the annual value, so it is not as much of a bargain as it appears on the surface.

Still, it has proven to be a shrewd move. Watson sports a 2.62 ERA in 94 total appearances with the Giants. He also has the trust of manager Bruce Bochy, who tends to only use him in high-leverage situations.

Despite his success with the orange and black, Watson has been demonstrating some concerning trends this season.

For starters, there is a pretty big gap between his 2.70 ERA and his 3.66 FIP. That 3.66 mark is still solid, but it also provides a reason to believe that he may be in line for some regression.

In addition to this, Watson’s average fastball velocity sits at 92.2 MPH—the second-lowest figure of his career—and his fastball usage continues to decrease.

An aging pitcher can still be effective with decreased velocity, provided he can sequence his pitches more effectively to hide that diminished velocity. While Watson relies more on deception than anything else, the downturn in stuff is still notable.

Some of Watson’s peripheral numbers also raise red flags.

Watson has tallied just 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings, which is down from his 2018 mark (9.8 K/9) and his career mark entering the season (8.2 K/9). Lower strikeout numbers are typically one of the first signs of regression.

The 34-year-old is also allowing more hits. On the year, he has yielded 9.9 hits per nine innings, which is much higher than his 7.4 hits per nine innings he has allowed throughout his career. Another clear warning sign of impending regression.

It’s easy to ignore the peripherals when he is continuing to produce at a high level.

For the sake of his trade value, the San Francisco Giants will be hoping that these red flags continue to stay below the surface.

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