Tony Watson has established himself as one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. Out of 142 qualified relievers last year, he ranked 21st in WAR, 10th in ERA, and 24th in xFIP. He has done so well that he has become the set-up man in a dangerous late inning combo that also features Mark Melancon, who has been better than Watson.
But the Pirates need two left-handed relievers, and that need was increased when they traded Justin Wilson away to the New York Yankees to get Francisco Cervelli. The Pirates filled that need by dealing Joely Rodriguez to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Antonio Bastardo.
Bastardo has put up some good numbers in Philadelphia, with a high strikeout rate, a decent ERA, and advanced metrics that back up the ERA. There has been one downside, and that is a high walk rate. Last year was his worst season, with a 12.6% walk rate, despite a 29.9% strikeout rate. Fortunately for Bastardo, the Pirates have already started working on adjustments to fix the control issues.
I talked with Bastardo and pitching coach Ray Searage about the control (video below, along with highlights), and learned that they are working on a mechanical adjustment in his delivery, so that he can come down stronger on his front foot. This will prevent him from shifting side to side in his delivery, and will allow him to repeat that delivery better. Bastardo has already been a good reliever, even with the control problems. If he can eliminate those control issues like many other Pirates pitchers in the past few years, then he could turn into a great lefty reliever.
The Pirates are also trying to get Bastardo to use his changeup more often. Searage said that it is a good pitch, and referenced Watson as a guy who greatly benefitted by using his changeup more often. Watson only used the pitch 7% of the time in 2012, then upped the usage to 17.8% in 2013, and 21.5% in 2014. Those were also his best seasons, probably due in large part to the improvements against right-handers. Watson had a .304 wOBA against right-handers in 2012, compared to a .247 wOBA against lefties. He improved to a .260 wOBA against right-handers in 2013, and a .288 wOBA in 2014. The Pirates also trusted him to face over 100 more right-handers in 2014 than 2012.
Bastardo doesn’t use his changeup often. In his career, he has used the pitch 3.2% of the time, and only used it 1.1% of the time last year. He’s already a guy who does well against right-handers, but could see a boost in his numbers with increased usage of the pitch. Add in the possibility of improved control (which should also be helped by the Pirates’ duo of pitch framing catchers), and Bastardo could give the Pirates two of the best left-handers in the game.