I said in my game recaps and on Twitter recently that I went from slightly worried about Tony Watson in the closer’s role to officially worried about Watson in the closer’s role. Now this post isn’t to say he won’t be fine and end up a quality closer—I’m not saying that. But right now in the middle of a winning streak and playoff race, the Pirates can’t afford to have Watson continue to struggle in the 9th inning. Why not go with a couple different options in the 9th inning?
There this notion with some of you on Twitter that Watson hasn’t been struggling. Well, let’s put that to bed right now. Since taking over as the Pirates closer with Mark Melancon‘s trade to the Nationals at the deadline, Watson has a 3.52 ERA in nine outings and given up four runs (three earned) in just 7.2 innings. He’s blown one save and recorded seven saves, but two of them being one-out saves. He’s given up three runs in games where he’s out for the save and would have a couple more blown saves had the Pirates not had a two or three-run lead at the time. A 3.52 ERA out of your closer is not productive and if that continues, it’s going to hurt a team that’s playing a lot of tight games down the stretch. Also, Watson has had an up and down season since the start. He struggled to start the season in April, was perfect in May, recorded a 5.56 ERA in June, lights out again in July (11ip/1er) and now a 3.52 ERA in August since closing. His 3.3 BB/9 is above his career average (2.6) and 7.6 K/9 is slightly below his career average (8.0). It’s not the Tony Watson we’re used to seeing in previous years when he’s elementary, comes in, does he job and that’s it. Not to mention, he appeared to be completely uncomfortable after the lead off walk in yesterday’s game. At this point with the way Felipe Rivero is pitching since coming to Pittsburgh, Watson has been the third best reliever for the Pirates.
Right now isn’t the time to have a guy struggling to find himself as a closer. Why can’t Clint Hurdle alleviate some of them pressure and use someone like Neftali Feliz once or twice a week in the 9th inning?
Feliz is putting together a stellar season for the Bucs so much so that fans and media are hoping to see an extension to keep Feliz in the Burgh beyond this season. Feliz is striking out 10.1 batters per nine innings and only allowing 5.9 hits/9. Plus, he has experience as a closer and was dominant at it. In Feliz’s rookie year in 2010, he 70 times out of the bullpen for the Texas Rangers, recorded a 2.73 ERA and saved 40 games to win the AL ROY award as a 22-year-old. He followed that campaign up with 32 saves and a 2.74 ERA in 2011 before the Rangers made an idiotic decision to try to make him a starter, which led to him struggling and getting hit with numerous injuries shortly after. Feliz has since proven he’s healthy and he’s producing again at an elite level in the bullpen. Plus he has success in the postseason as he was the closer for the Rangers team that came within one game of a World Series title. In 18.2 postseason innings, Feliz has a 1.93 ERA and seven saves. Why can’t we try this guy in the 9th inning from time to time?
I’m not saying replace Feliz right now with Watson, but why not give Feliz a shot once a week when the matchup arises? The Pirates are the team in recent years thinking outside the box and ways to get an unknown advantage up on their opponents. I’d hate to see a playoff berth go up in smoke because Hurdle sticks to the old adage of “well it’s always been one closer and you have to ride or die with him.” Wrong. Pitch a couple different guys in the 9th inning and pick your matchups. The Pirates and Hurdle will be the first to tell you that just because they’ve been doing it for years, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right way or right for each team. Well, let’s exercise what we preach and get creative with the closer’s role. Use Watson and Feliz as a closer by committee, pick your spots and ride the hot hand from week-to-week. It may just be the difference between a wildcard berth or not.