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Under the Radar

Tony Watson’s return to San Francisco was overshadowed by Kris Bryant’s arrival—but that didn’t keep him from doing his job.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

It was a little unexpected when the news broke that the San Francisco Giants traded for aging reliever Tony Watson at the deadline in July.

I guess “news” is maybe generous–the Kris Bryant acquisition kinda hogged the spotlight on that one. The trade for Tony Watson at the time felt more like the pack of tube socks you throw in your cart while shopping at Costco–you don’t need them, but you don’t-not-need-them either.

The deal may have flown under the radar for some fans (not me, of course), but Watson for Sam Selman and prospects was a savvy move by a front office with their eyes trained towards October.

Watson was a 36 year old lefty, well-known and liked in the Giants clubhouse after spending the 2018, ‘19 and ‘20 seasons in the orange and black. He had a fine campaign in 2020, but was not going to make the big leagues with the Phillies after they signed him as a free agent. He opted out and three days later was signed by the Los Angeles Angels.

He was a consistent mound presence for the Angels the first four months of the season. His stat line inflated by a four run hiccup against Texas in May and a six run coughing fit against Oakland in June.

In 33 innings, pitched for the Angels, Watson posted an FIP of 4.11, 1.182 WHIP and ERA + of 97–all above his 11 year career averages. Which, to be fair, one would expect from a 36 year old arm.

The Angels were okay, Watson was okay–there was little expectation that he would be a commodity at the trade deadline.

As reported after the trade, Watson’s velocity was trending upward in recent weeks and though they had veteran presence in lefty Jake McGee–with a trip to the postseason basically guaranteed–another steady, play-off seasoned left hand was deemed necessary for an excellent but tired pen.

Unexpected, unheralded, but welcomed and comfortable–Tony Watson thrived back in the Bay. In his first game back, he cooled a three-run Diamondbacks comeback in the 7th–bailing out the young Jay Jackson and then proceeding to toss a scoreless 8th. The Giants ended up winning 11-8 in ten innings.

Watson’s inflated stats down south, shrunk as a Giant. Over 24.1 innings, his FIP was 2.64. WHIP 0.781. His ERA+ rose to 140. His walk rate dropped from 10.4% to 4.4%. Watson didn’t allow a run until his tenth appearance.

In his eleventh, he forfeited a game-changing 3-run homer to Jorge Soler in a loss to the Braves on August 27th. He bounced back, putting up zeros again over his next eight appearances–meaningful outings against Los Angeles (Dodgers), Milwaukee, Atlanta.

His slider against lefties was particularly devastating–opponents scratching out a .098 batting average against the pitch, eliciting a whiff rate of 41.6 percent.

Summary: Watson joined a terrific Giants bullpen in 2021 and made it better.

Unfortunately, he did not get to contribute in the postseason against the Dodgers (in which he made 11 appearances for in 2017) –a left shoulder strain sent him to the 10-day IL on September 30th.

Tony Watson became a free agent last fall. He is no longer a Giant…again.

But maybe Zaidi will run it back and scoop him up from somewhere in August 2022–him and Nolan Arenado.