Another Arm: Phillies bring in LHP Tony Watson

On the first day of Spring Training, the Phillies are still making moves.

I said it was very possible that the Phillies brought in another arm. Well, that possibility became reality today when the team announced they had signed LHP Tony Watson to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

According to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury, Watson will make $3 million if he makes the roster. There is another $1 million in incentives available, similar to the Brandon Kintzler deal. Again, this is a hefty guarantee to give out on a minor league contract. It makes it quite likely, barring a disaster, that Watson makes the team out of Spring Training.

Watson has been a consistent reliever for his entire career, which is not a easy thing to do. Finishing with only one season with an ERA above 4, his career ERA is 2.80. In 2020, Watson was his typical reliable self, throwing 18 innings with an ERA of 2.50. He has never been a big strikeout guy, instead making his money on induced weak contact. In 2020, Watson finished with 24.9% of balls in play off him qualifying as hard contact. That was good for the 149th highest in the league. Long story short, he does a very good job missing barrels.

While he has been so consistent over his career, there is some risk to this. Prior to 2020, Watson averaged just over 93 mph on his fastball. Last year, that average velocity dropped to below 90 (89.9). I don’t think it is the worst thing for a pitcher like Watson, but it is concerning. Watson has made his bones in the league by knowing how to pitch. Knowing how to work either side of the plate does not go away with a velocity dip. Nonetheless, a velocity dip for a pitcher in his mid-30’s is concerning.

Unlike most lefties, Watson can get batter on either side of the plate out. In 2020, lefties slashed .174/.259/.304, while righties were just a bit better, slashing .200/.217/.356. With the three batter rule, you need pitchers that can get batters on both sides of the plate out. Watson has been doing that for most of his career.

It has been nailed into our heads, but the Phillies’ bullpen ended 2020 with a 7.06 ERA. The work that Dave Dombrowski has done this offseason fixing it has been very shrewd. The additions of Watson, Kintzler, Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, and even Sam Coonrod will help reshape the bullpen.

An argument can be made that the bullpen was the sole reason the Phillies didn’t make the playoffs. DD is making it so that doesn’t happen this year.

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