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Astros: The other half of a hypothetical Gerrit Cole deal

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May 20, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 20, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Tony Watson (44) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the ninth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Starting pitching is not the only thing on the Astros wish list.

With all of the media attention on which top-name starting pitcher, the Astros may try and get at the trade deadline, that is not the only area that needs some depth.

For the majority of the season, the Astros have only carried one left-handed pitcher out of the bullpen, Tony Sipp. For the most part, there has been no real reason to have another one.

Sipp has been spectacular, with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in 14 appearances. Even Asher Tolliver, a left-handed pitcher called up from Triple-A Fresno to take Dallas Keuchel’s roster spot during his 10-day disabled list stint, was successful in his first outing on May 21st, giving up one run on two hits and two walks, striking out five. Also, other pitchers, such as Chris Devenski, have carried the load against left-handed hitters, with a 0.63 WHIP and a .095 batting average for opposing southpaw hitters.

Even though the lack of left-handed relievers in the bullpen may have not been much of a factor in the first two months of the season, it will become a factor in late September heading into October. Luckily, for the Astros, one southpaw reliever may come in a package deal for that ace-like starter.

Who is Tony Watson?

For the past seven seasons, left-hander Tony Watson has been a consistent force out of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen. With six seasons of 65 appearances or more, he has a 2.57 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP.

Watson’s role in the Pirates bullpen has changed in the past two seasons. In his first five seasons, he was a left-handed batter specialist, averaging just under an inning per appearance. Now, in the past two seasons, Watson’s role has shifted to the ninth inning, converting 25 saves in 31 appearances.

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His approach really has not changed much moving into the closer’s role. Watson’s primary weapon is a sinker, throwing the pitch that averages out at around 92 mph 69 percent of the time this season. With that, Watson has currently a career high ground ball percentage at 51.6 percent, striking out only 15.6 percent of batters faced.

With the lack of strikeouts this season, Watson has still been very effective at the end of games for the Pirates. The sidearmer has converted 10 saves on 11 tries with a 2.75 ERA, striking out 14 batters in 19.2 innings of work.

Watson has struggled with runners on base so far this season. With a .275 batting average against, Watson has a career high 1.47 WHIP, giving up 22 hits and seven walks this season. However, Watson has a left on base percentage at a staggering 93.5 percent, proving that he can get out of jams with his sinker/change up combination.

What would his role be?

If the Astros were to acquire Watson, it would most likely be a part of a deal for Pirates ace Gerrit Cole. To make a deal like this happen, the Astros would have to be willing to deal multiple top prospects. However, this would fill the two major needs for the Astros heading into October.

If he were to become a member of the Astros, Watson would not take the closer role. With that role in the hands of right-hander Ken Giles, Watson would more than likely return to the role that brought him success as a Pirate, a late-inning reliever that specializes in getting left-handed hitters out. Watson does have the ability to get right-handed hitters out though, with a .259 batting average against this season.

Watson would also give opposing hitters a different look out of the Astros bullpen. With a bullpen filled with two-seam fastballs and sliders, Watson is the late-inning ground ball guy with the sinker/change up combination.

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It would take a lot for the Astros to acquire both Cole and Watson from the struggling National League Central team. However, with a proven background in late-inning work as both a set-up man and as a closer, Watson should be near or at the top of the wish list for left-handed relievers on the market.

***Stats provided by MLB.com and FanGraphs***

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