Pittsburgh Pirates: Breaking Down David Bednar’s Strong Rookie Season

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 31: David Bednar #51 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park on July 31, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 31: David Bednar #51 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park on July 31, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates rookie reliever David Bednar is having a strong season. But how good is it in comparrison to rookie relievers in the franchise’s history?

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired David Bednar as part of the Joe Musgrove trade. At the time, Bednar was the San Diego Padres’ top relief prospect. He was drafted in the 35th round of the 2016 draft. The Pittsburgh native never got a shot in the Padres’ pen, but now has developed into a high-end, high-leverage relief arm for the Bucs. His rookie campaign has been outstanding, but how good is it in terms of Pirate history?

Bednar has tossed 53.2 innings in 55 games. All told, he’s put up a strong 2.35 ERA, 2.91 FIP and 0.98 WHIP. Bednar has also punched plenty of tickets owning a 31.1% strikeout rate. Though he’s a big strikeout pitcher and hard thrower (his fastball averaging out 96.7 MPH, in the top 92nd percentile), he isn’t wild either. He has a solid 7.7% walk rate. Home runs haven’t been a big issue either. He has just a .84 HR/9 rate.

Bednar’s underlying stats tell a similar story. He has a 3.28 xFIP, 3.01 SIERA, 2.72 xERA, and 3.56 DRA. He’s been extremely effective and has stepped into a larger role, now receiving chances to close out games.

So in terms of Pittsburgh Pirates rookie relievers since 1960, the Bucs have had 78 relievers pitch a qualifying amount of innings in their first season. Among them, Bednar’s ERA is tied for 10th with Kyle Crick in 2018. Though a more telling way of looking at this is through ERA-. This accounts for things such as park factors and the run-scoring environment (think of a wRC+ but for ERA) and is on a scale where 100 is average and anything below is 1% better than average (99 ERA- is 1% better than average). Since we are looking at pitchers since 1960, I think this is the best way of comparing Bednar to relievers from decades ago. Bednar has a 58 ERA-, tied for 5th with Justin Wilson in 2013.

Bednar’s FIP- (same scale and idea as ERA- but for FIP) has him at 70. That’s the third-best FIP- in Pirate rookie reliever history. Though his FIP still ranks very high at #6. Bednar is just one of four Pirates rookie relievers to have a K% of at least 30%, ranking fourth. His K/BB ratio comes in at #6. ERA estimators such as xFIP and SIERA are newer, but he ranks 2nd in xFIP and third in SIERA. That’s among 27 other rookie relievers.

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When you look at Bednar’s 2021 rookie campaign, we’re looking at one of the best seasons of a Pirate reliever in the franchise’s history. While we are only looking back to 1960, relievers weren’t very present in the sport before that. Once you account for the run environment he is playing in, you’re looking at a top 3 Pirates’ rookie reliever.

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