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Biertempfel: It's elementary: Watson deserves to be on All-Star team

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 9:40 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Tony Watson pitches during the eighth inning against the Phillies Saturday, July 5, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Tony Watson pitches during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, July 5, 2014, at PNC Park.

Let's start with the obvious: Tony Watson should be an All-Star.

The numbers say so. Watson leads the major leagues with 22 holds. His 0.89 ERA ranks fifth among National League relievers with at least 20 innings pitched. He is averaging 10.84 strikeouts per nine innings.

Although he's a left-hander, Watson doesn't pad his stats by facing only lefty batters. He has faced almost three times as many righty batters (114 plate appearances) as lefties (48 PAs). In fact, he has performed almost as good against right-handers (.204 average, .543 OPS) than against left-handers (.200 average, .539 OPS).

Most of Watson's outings are high-leverage situations. Of his 41 outings, 35 came in the seventh inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one or with the tying run at least on deck. Watson usually faces the middle of the lineup.

With two outs and runners in scoring position, Watson is holding batters to a .063 average. With men anywhere on base, he has a 27.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .209 batting average against.

Is that All-Star caliber? Sure. There's just one problem.

Watson is a middle reliever.

“That's the thing,” Watson said with a shrug. “It's all starters and closers. So, (making the team) is not something I anticipate.”

Over the previous 10 years, there have been 290 pitchers named to All-Star rosters. According to research by David Adler of MLB.com, only 15 of those were setup relievers.

Adler's total doesn't include Mark Melancon, who made the NL squad last year as fellow All-Star Jason Grilli's setup guy. Melancon ended the season as the Pirates' part-time closer, getting 16 saves while Grilli was on the disabled list.

In 2010, Evan Meek became the Pirates' first non-closing reliever to get an All-Star berth since saves became an official stat in 1969. Meek was chosen partly because he had a sparkling 0.98 ERA and partly because the Pirates, who racked up 105 losses that season, had no one else worthy of a berth.

It's different this year. Andrew McCutchen, the NL's second-leading vote-getter as of a few days ago, is a lock to make his fourth consecutive All-Star team. Second baseman Neil Walker also might hear his name when the rosters are announced at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Fan voting determines the eight starting position players for each team. The players have input. The final few spots are determined by the NL manager and his coaches.

“I have been in that chair and the hardest thing to do is pick all the right guys,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “As we've all talked about, there will be an all-star team left off the All-Star team.

“I know the people involved look at it from a lot of different angles, and they're trying to make sure they don't overlook anybody.”

Watson has a few things in his favor. Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny will manage the NL team. In four outings against St. Louis this season, Watson has allowed two hits, no walks and no earned runs and has struck out eight.

Hurdle, whom Matheny chose for his All-Star coaching staff, has lobbied on Watson's behalf.

“You never know how much it's going to play, but you want to make sure you get your voice out there and you get heard,” Hurdle said.

The players' ballot will select three relievers, and Watson figures to get a lot of support there.

“Whatever happens, I know the guys in this clubhouse are behind me,” Watson said. “Where it goes from there, how it takes off ... I don't know. It would be great to go. It would be tremendous.

“But if it doesn't, I've still got to go out and get the job done (for the Pirates).”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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