Pittsburgh Pirates: Derek Shelton Using David Bednar Perfectly

Apr 17, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) and catcher Roberto Perez (55) celebrate after defeating the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. The Pirates won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar (51) and catcher Roberto Perez (55) celebrate after defeating the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. The Pirates won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t used David Bednar in every save situation that has come up this year, and for a good reason.

Going into this year, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a dominant long-term reliever on their hands with David Bednar. Bednar was acquired in the Joe Musgrove trade and had one of the best rookie seasons for a Pirates’ reliever dating back to 1950.

In 60.2 innings of work, Bednar had a phenomenal 2.23 ERA, 2.69 FIP, and .93 WHIP. The PA native was a strikeout machine with a 32.5% strikeout rate, but he wasn’t just a thrower. He displayed solid command as well, with an 8.0% walk rate. Plus, he only allowed home runs at a .74-per-9 pace. Bednar’s underlying metrics agreed he was phenomenal with a 2.92 SIERA, 3.19 xFIP, and 3.38 DRA to go along with the significant surface numbers.

But, this season, Bednar has pitched the 9th inning in 3 of his 7 total appearances. Why is that? He should be the automatic 9th inning guy, right? Chris Stratton has gotten more appearances in the 9th inning, and he had a 3.63 ERA, 3.76 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP in 2021. Although tradition says yes, he’s been more impactful the way Derek Shelton has deployed Bednar.

Let’s take a glance at win probability added, or WPA for short. This stat gives us context on how every play made impacted a team’s chances of winning. To provide an example of how this works, a two-run bomb in the second inning of a tied game doesn’t increase a team’s chances of winning as much as a solo shot in the 7th inning of a tied game. It’s based on leverage and when the play happens.

Bednar has pitched 8.0 total innings and has a .7 WPA. He averages about .1 WPA every inning. Meanwhile, Stratton has a .4 WPA in 5.2 innings of work, coming out to about .8 WPA per inning. Across 60 innings, Bednar would average 6.0 WPA, and Stratton would average 4.5 WPA.

A look at Friday’s game shows the impact of Bednar in the 8th and Stratton in the 9th. Despite one recording a save in a close game and the other recording a hold in a close game, both Stratton and Bednar had a WPA of .09. It comes down to who Bednar faced vs. who Stratton faced.

When Bednar came into the game for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 8th inning, he had to face the heart of the Cub order. He faced Seiya Suzuki, who has the highest wRC+ for any qualified 2022 rookie at the time of writing this. Then he had to face Willson Contreras, who currently sits with a 124 OPS+. After Contreras, he faced Frank Schwindel and Rafael Ortega. This made up the Cubs’ 2-through-5 parts of the order.

Stratton then took over for Bednar in the ninth and faced Jonathan Villar, Alfonso Rivas, Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, and Nick Madrigal, the Cubs’ 6-through-9 hitters and their leadoff guy. Bednar faced the tougher batters with the same score as to when Stratton came in to pitch.

dark. Next. Yerry De Los Santos Pushing for MLB Promotion

As my favorite YouTuber, Foolish Baseball, once said, “Don’t be a slave to the save.” This is a situation where this quote rings true. Don’t let the idea of tradition get in the way of the most effective strategy. While save totals in the 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s are always fun to look at, the most important outs aren’t always going to be in the ninth inning. David Bednar is the best reliever the Pirates have when it comes to high-leverage situations, so it only makes sense to put give him the bulk of high-leverage work, even if that isn’t the 9th.

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