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Stats Corner: Pirates' Watson getting whiffs off plate

| Saturday, May 31, 2014, 9:20 p.m.

When the Pirates need an out in a white-knuckle situation, Tony Watson is the man to get it.

The left-hander has not surrendered a run in more than a month and ranks second among all relievers in Win Probability Added (WPA), which estimates how much a player increases his team's chances of victory on a per-play basis. Watson is coming through in the clutch by racking up strikeouts like few southpaw bullpen arms have in franchise history.

During his first three seasons in the majors, Watson punched out fewer batters per nine innings pitched (7.8) than the average reliever over that time frame (8.2). But in 2014, Watson has whiffed more than 11 hitters per nine frames — on par with the St. Louis Cardinals' triple-digit-throwing closer, Trevor Rosenthal. Watson narrowly beats out Mike Gonzalez for the highest single-season strikeout rate by a left-handed reliever in the Pirates' 128 years as a major league club (minimum 25 innings pitched).

K club

Pitcher Year K/9

Tony Watson 2014 11.52

Mike Gonzalez 2004 11.42

Scott Sauerbeck 2001 11.35

Mike Gonzalez 2006 10.67

Ricardo Rincon 1997 10.65

Source: Baseball-Reference

Watson's strikeout rate has spiked this season because hitters aren't connecting nearly as often on pitches outside the strike zone. His opponent contact rate on out-of-zone pitches (O-Contact) is more than 10 percentage points below his career average.

Year O-Contact

2014 52.4

Career Avg. 62.2

MLB Avg. 63.0

Watson always has been a hard thrower — his average fastball velocity (93.6 mph) is seventh-best among left-handed relievers — but he finally is getting swings and misses becoming of a power pitcher.

From 2011-13, batters made contact about 74 percent of the time they offered at a Watson heater off the plate. This season, they're putting the bat on the ball just 65 percent of the time.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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