2020 Giants season preview: Relief pitcher Tony Watson
Can Tony Watson step into the closer role for the San Francisco Giants and provide some stability to a weak bullpen?
With All-Star closer Will Smith gone, the San Francisco Giants have a gaping hole at the back of their bullpen heading into 2020. The man who will most likely replace him as the closer is left-handed reliever Tony Watson.
Watson has 30 career saves, with all of them coming during his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. That is reassuring in that it shows he has some experience in the role, but how smooth the transition from setup man to closer will be this time around remains to be seen.
Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla were able to do it with a good measure of success, but Watson is a different kind of pitcher.
To that point, last season was not his best year on the mound.
In 60 appearances, he had a 4.17 ERA with a 6.8 K/9 strikeout rate. Compare that to his 2.59 ERA and 9.8 K/9 strikeout rate in 2018, and it’s hard not to be a little concerned about the drop-off in production.
His 2019 season also ended on the sidelines, as he suffered a fractured wrist in September, so we will have to see if there are any lingering effects during the 2020 season.
Despite Watson’s struggles last year, perhaps the new role as closer will be exactly what he needs to snap himself back to his old form. For the sake of Giants fans, his ability to nail down saves will be essential for our sanity early in the year.
Without any clear options to slide into the closer’s role if Watson struggles, another layer of pressure is added to a guy who has not recorded a save since 2017.
However, I still think we should try our best to be optimistic.
The 34-year-old is still a solid reliever at his best, so while it’s unlikely he will match Smith’s All-Star level brilliance, he could still prove to be a solid closer.
By the time 2020 comes to a close, I’ll say he will have racked up something close to 30 saves with only a handful of blown opportunities.
It’s also worth noting that since he’s in the final year of his contract, if he does end up being a solid closer, the Giants may decide to trade him to get something out of him in a rebuilding year.
But as long as he is a member of the Giants, let’s hope he proves to be a solid closer for the team.