Obscure Former Pittsburgh Pirates Players: Relief Pitcher Joe Beimel

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Joe Beimel was a left-handed reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates who made headlines in 2021 for his attempted comeback in his mid-40s

The Pittsburgh Pirates have had plenty of recognizable relievers in their history. Kent Tekulve has the most innings pitched without making a single start. Mark Melancon holds the Pirate all-time single-season saves record. Tony Watson is the all-time holds leader. But one obscure name in Pirate history is left-handed pitcher Joe Beimel.

The Pirates drafted Beimel out of Pittsburgh's Duquesne University way back in 1998. Beimel was an 18th-round pick who was born out of Saint Marys, Pennsylvania, so he was likely familiar with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although the southpaw was never a top prospect, he had a solid 2000 for the Pirate High-A and Double-A affiliates, and made his debut the following season, skipping Triple-A altogether.

Beimel’s rookie season was not great, to say the least. He had a 5.23 ERA, 4.83 FIP, and 1.56 WHIP through 115.2 innings. He worked as a swing-man reliever for the Bucs, starting 15 of the 42 games he appeared in. Beimel nearly walked (49) as many batters as he struck out (58), but only allowed 12 home runs for a 0.93 HR/9 rate.

The lefty pitched relatively the same over the next two seasons, owning a 4.83 ERA, 4.86 FIP, and 1.59 WHIP over his next 147.2 innings. After 2003, the Pirates decided to move on from Beimel. He pitched sparingly over the next two campaigns, only appearing in ten total games for the Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays. But after signing on with the LA Dodgers for the 2006 season, Beimel found his niche and started to make something of his major league career.

Beimel developed himself into a lefty-only specialist, pitching 286.2 innings over the course of his next five seasons with the Dodgers, Washington Nationals, and Colorado Rockies. In that time, he had a 3.20 ERA, 3.97 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP. Beimel never became a big strikeout pitcher and still had a K% of just 12.9%, but he delivered a solid 8.2% walk rate, and 0.57 HR/9 rate.

The Pirates decided to bring Beimel back for a second time in 2011. After all, Beimel had just posted an ERA+ of 115 or great over each of his last five campaigns. However, it didn’t work out well for the Pirates or Beimel.

He only pitched 25.1 innings in 35 games, owning a 5.33 ERA, 5.95 FIP, and 1.70 WHIP. Beimel’s strikeout rate of 14.6% and walk rate of 7.7% were about in line with his career norms, but his HR/9 skyrocketed from just under 0.60 to 2.13. Beimel was released by the Pirates at the end of August and didn’t appear in the big leagues for the next two seasons. He did make a brief appearance for the Atlanta Braves Triple-A affiliate, but it wouldn’t be until 2014 that Beimel resurfaced in the big leagues. 

This time around, Beimel suited up for the Seattle Mariners, where he took up the LOOGY role once again. In 92.1 innings, Beimel worked to a 3.12 ERA, 4.84 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. He continued his low strikeout approach with a 12.4% strikeout rate, and also kept walks under wraps (7.9% walk rate), though his HR/9 never recovered, as he still averaged 1.17 home runs allowed per nine innings. 

Beimel stayed in pro ball for the 2016 season with Kansas City's Triple-A team, and in 2017 for the New Britain Bees of the Atlantic League. But at 40 years old, Beimel seemed to be at the end of his rope. It had been nearly 20 years since Beimel made his professional debut and although he had a brief comeback in 2014, how many teams would be interested in a 40-year-old LOOGY reliever?

However, in 2021, over five years after his final MLB game, Beimel decided to make a comeback attempt in his age-44 season. Beimel pitched for the Padre Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, working to a 3.86 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and 1.06 WHIP through 35 innings. Again, it was a low-K (15.4% strikeout rate) and low walk rate (8%) for the southpaw, but still gave up his fair share of homers with a 1.54 HR/9. Though like our previous obscure Pirates player, Pedro Ciriaco, who crossed paths with a young Oneil Cruz, Beimel also crossed paths with some current Pirates.

Beimel was teammates with Jack Suwinski and Tucupita Marcano with the Padre Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. Here’s how old Beimel was in retrospect to both Marcano and Suwinski. The 1998 MLB Draft took place on June 3rd. A month and 25 days later, Jack Suwinski was born. When Joe Beimel made his debut on April 8th, 2001, Marcano was about one year and seven months old.

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