In January of 2021, the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Pittsburgh Pirates swung a three-team trade that sent Joey Lucchesi to the Mets, Joe Musgrove to the Padres, and a group of prospects to the Pirates. Included in the package headed to Pittsburgh was righty David Bednar, a former 35th-round pick who had a 6.75 earned run average in 17.1 innings in the majors. In 2021, Bednar broke out as one of Pittsburgh’s primary setup men, finishing eighth in Rookie of the Year voting. In 2022, Bednar has assumed the Pirates closer role and come out of the gates even stronger, showing no signs of slowing down.
Advanced Stats Back up Stellar Surface Numbers
Thus far, Bednar has a microscopic 0.75 ERA/2.15 FIP with a 0.667 WHIP, nine saves, and 31 strikeouts in 24 innings (11.6 K/9). Statcast paints Bednar in a good light too –– opponents have just a .187 xBA, .190 wOBA, and .251 xwOBA against him. While his xERA of 2.22 is not as amazing as his regular ERA, it still ranks in the top four percent of Major League Baseball. Bednar’s SIERA of 1.94 also suggests that his numbers are pretty sustainable.
Pitch Arsenal Continues to Improve
Bednar has mainly used a three-pitch arsenal ever since he debuted in MLB, throwing a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a splitter. He is now using his fastball 61 percent of the time, and while the average exit velocity against it has gone up, the whiff rate on the pitch has increased from 27.9 percent to 34.7 percent. His fastball also now averages 10.1 inches of horizontal movement, and it already has a run value of negative-5 (it had a value of negative-9 last year). His putaway percentage on the fastball has also spiked from 24.4 percent to 32.2 percent this year.
Bednar’s secondary pitches have been almost unhittable, with opponents having no hits against his curveball and just one hit against his splitter. His curveball has a whiff rate of 45 percent and a .065 xBA, with its putaway percentage rising to 31.8 percent. Bednar’s splitter has produced an average exit velocity of just 78.9 miles per hour and a launch angle of negative-2 degrees. The putaway percentage on the splitter has also risen, from 20 percent to 23.8 percent. Both pitches have a run value of negative-2.
Walks Are Down, Strikeouts Are Up
While Bednar was not particularly wild in 2021, he has managed to cut his walk rate down from eight percent to 4.6 percent this year, which ranks in the top ten percent of MLB. His already impressive strikeout rate has spiked from 32.5 percent to 35.6 percent, which places him in the league’s 97th percentile. Bednar’s 7.75 K/BB ratio is also a significant improvement from his 4.05 mark from a year ago.
What Comes Next?
While Bednar has continued to dice up his opponents, the Pirates are just 19-26 and are still a ways away from contending. He is only 27 years old, which suggests he could still play a significant role in future seasons, but his trade value is also very high. Relievers tend to be a hot commodity for every contender at the trade deadline, and they can net some big hauls in return. Bednar is thriving right now, but do not be too surprised if he gets moved this summer.
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