Pittsburgh Pirates: Trying to Figure Out What’s Plaguing David Bednar

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 23: David Bednar #51 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after the final out in a 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins during the game at PNC Park on July 23, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 23: David Bednar #51 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after the final out in a 1-0 win over the Miami Marlins during the game at PNC Park on July 23, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

David Bednar’s effectiveness has severely waned over the past month-and-a-half, but what is wrong with the Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star?

Pittsburgh Pirates closer David Bednar hasn’t been the same for the last month or so. The All-Star reliever has run into his fair share of struggles, which is very surprising given how dominant he was in 2021 and the first half of 2022.

So, what’s going on with the right-hander?

Entering play on Monday, if oyu go back to June 1th Bednar has a 5.94 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 1.62 WHIP in his last 16.2 innings. Although he’s still struck out just over 30% of the batters he has faced (30.3%, to be exact), his walk rate is over 10% (10.5%), and his HR/9 has risen to 1.08. That’s a massive downgrade from the 1.24 ERA, 2.02 FIP, 0.79 WHIP, 34.9% strikeout rate, 5.5% walk rate, and 0.62 HR/9 rate up through June 14th.

In terms of batted ball rates, he’s giving up a ton more line drives, going from a 21.5% line-drive rate to a 30.2% rate. However, his poor hard hit rates have remained relatively the same. Dating back to June 15th, he has a 90.1 MPH exit velo and 47.7% hard-hit rate. Not much different from the 91.3 MPH exit velo and 46.2% hard-hit rate he had from the start of the season through June 14th.

Although Bednar hasn’t lost any velocity, spin, or movement on any of his pitches, the results haven’t been there for him. While underlying numbers like xFIP and SIERA point to some bad luck playing a role in his underperformance, it’s clear something is up. He’s often missing his spots, and his walk rate is over double what it was.

It could be a side effect of the Pittsburgh Pirates working Bednar extremely hard this year. He already has 45.2 innings of work, giving him the 7th most innings pitched by any reliever who hasn’t started a game yet. However, all of the pitchers above him on the innings pitched leaderboard were starters in the minor leagues this year, or we’re starting pitchers in 2021, such as Wil Crowe, Keegan Akin, and Michael King. Bednar has the fastest fastball among relievers who haven’t started a game, both in the minor leagues and major leagues, since the start of 2021, and has 40 or more innings pitched.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have worked Bednar more than one inning 10 times this season and at least two innings six times. Last  season, they worked him more than one inning only seven times and at least two only four times. They’ve made him throw 30 or more pitches on four different occasions, including one 50-pitch outing against the LA Dodgers. Last season, he only reached 30+ pitches twice and never exceeded 31. Bednar currently has thrown 719 pitches. At this time last year, he only had 634 pitches thrown and 934 throughout the entire 2021 season.

Bednar could be cutting his pitches, which limits the effectiveness of his spin. Bednar’s active spin (which is the spin that effects the movement on a pitch) on his curveball wenet from 77% last year to just 70% this year. His splitter went from 49% to 60%, but for a splitter, you want less active spin. Now take this next part with a heaviest grain of salt possible as it is only speculation, but this could be early signs of elbow trouble.

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Bednar’s lack of effectiveness is a serious issue and a cause for concern. You don’t want your potential long-term closer to suddenly losing his stuff. In the event a team does want to trade for him, it doesn’t take a professional scout from another MLB team, or someone who understands Baseball Savant metrics (like active or movement based spin) to tell there’s something off. Sure, it could be a rough patch, but it’s clear that something is wrong.

Just watching him, you can tell by his location that it’s completely off from the start of the season. The solution could be to change something mechanical, the solution could be just giving him rest, or the solution could be surgery. Whatever the problem is, and whatever the answer is, there’s a clear issue with Bednar, and there’s a good reason to have concern right now.