Veteran left-handed reliever Tony Watson is retiring after 11 seasons at the Major League level, he tells Stephen J. Nesbitt of The Athletic. Watson issued a statement thanking his teammates, peers, coaches and support staff members, as well as the four teams for which he pitched — Pirates, Dodgers, Giants, Angels — and his family and friends for their support throughout his career. Nesbitt further tweets that Watson originally hoped to continue on for at least a 12th season, but shoulder issues led him to call it a career.
As Nesbitt points out, Watson will step away from baseball as the all-time leader in holds (a statistic which has been recorded since 1999), having racked up 246 of them throughout his big league tenure. That’s a testament to the southpaw’s consistency and effectiveness. Not only did his reliability convince managers to give Watson the ball with small leads year-after-year, he frequently passed them along into the later innings by keeping runs off the board.
Watson exceeded 40 innings in ten of the the past eleven seasons, with only the shortened 2020 schedule keeping him from hitting that mark every year of his career. Only once did he post an ERA north of 4.00, and he allowed fewer than three earned runs per nine innings on four separate occasions. That included three straight excellent campaigns with the Pirates in 2013-15, during which time the University of Nebraska product tossed 224 1/3 innings of 1.97 ERA ball, stifling opposing hitters to a .212/.265/.297 slash line.
Amidst that run, Watson earned a deserved selection to the 2014 All-Star game. He struck out 26.6% of opposing hitters that year — the second-highest rate of his career — while posting a 1.63 ERA and leading the National League with 78 appearances. Watson remained eminently productive throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh, which concluded at the 2017 trade deadline when the non-contending Bucs shipped the impending free agent to the Dodgers. (That deal looks as if it’ll be a meaningful one for years to come in Pittsburgh, as now-top prospect Oneil Cruz went from L.A. in return).
As he was throughout his career, Watson proved an effective late-season addition for the Dodgers. He then signed a three-year deal with the division-rival Giants, where he remained a solid bullpen option. Between 2018-20, Watson posted a 3.20 ERA in 138 frames. He signed with the Angels in free agency last winter, but San Francisco brought him back via a deadline trade. Watson had run into some uncharacteristic struggles in Orange County, but he righted the ship for what’ll prove to be his final run in the Bay Area.
Even as he neared his 37th birthday, the Iowa native was one of the better left-handed relievers in this year’s free agent class. He reportedly drew some interest from the Mets last month, but his shoulder will prevent him from giving it another go. Nevertheless, Watson steps away from the game as one of the more quietly effective relievers of the past decade. He posted a 2.90 ERA in 648 1/3 innings across 11 major league campaigns. In addition to his aforementioned holds record, he saved 32 games and struck out 570 batters. MLBTR congratulates Watson on his long, successful run and wishes him all the best in retirement.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.