Why is David Bednar struggling so much?

David Bednar is a two-time all-star closing pitcher, but what happened that has made him pitch so poorly in 2024?
San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates
San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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The stuff isn’t the problem. Bednar’s fastball has lost no velocity. He is sitting at 96.6 MPH, the same speed he sat last year. His curveball is sitting at 77.1 MPH compared to 77.9 MPH last year, while his splitter is around the same as well at 91.8 MPH compared to 91.6 MPH in 2023. His movement profile has had a slight shift but nothing major. His fastball’s horizontal and vertical break are both within one inch from last year. His curve has more action with 57 inches of drop and 9.4 inches of break compared to 53.6/8.1 inches last year. His splitter is also within one inch of vertical drop compared to last year but has gained about two inches of break and is now up to 9.3 inches.

But there’s still no noticeable change in stuff. If anything, his stuff is better than it was last year. Stuff+, a measurement on a similar scale to OPS+, wRC+, or ERA+ and measures how nasty a pitcher’s offerings are based on spin, velo, movement, and release point, put Bednar at 118 in 2023. He’s now up to 130, which is the highest single-season mark he’s had since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2021.

So far, it’s all been about his command. He hasn’t lived up in the zone as much with his four-seamer nearly as much as last year. His fastball has been his worst pitch, as batters have a .359 average, a .590 slugging percentage, and a .428 xwOBA against it. The lack of putting it up in the zone as frequently as last year could be part of the issue. He’s yet to give up a hit with his curveball, but batters are a lot less fooled by it. His curveball whiff rate was over 40% last year. Now it’s below 20%. His splitter has arguably been his most effective offering. Bednar is getting swings and misses with the pitch 57.1% of the time, a massive uptick from 33.6% last year. Even if they do make contact, they’ve managed a mere 79.1 MPH exit velocity and negative launch angle against it.

But even though his curveball and splitter have been pretty decent pitches, the way he’s used both has changed. Bednar is throwing his curveball in the strike zone more frequently compared to last year. He is throwing down and away from right-handers/down and into left-handers much less frequently, and this has led to a massive dip in chase rate from 28.9% to 12.5%. His splitter, which he threw inside to right-handed batters and down and into left-handed batters, has fallen out of the strike zone much more often than last year. 

Part of it is pitch location, but another part of Bednar’s struggles could be pitch execution. Bednar is throwing his fastball 61.6% of the time compared to 58% last year. From 2021 to 2023, his fastball usage never surpassed 58% in any season. Meanwhile, his splitter usage is down to 13.3%. He never used his splitter less than 16.5% of the time in any other season with the Pirates. It might be an issue Mitch Keller suffered from with his cutter, using a pitch that was meant to be a secondary offering too much.

Whatever the case is, Bednar needs to go back to locating the way he was in 2021-2023, and using his stuff more like he did during those three years. If it is a lingering injury, then he needs to go to the IL or Triple-A until he works through it. It’s not an issue with talent or stuff, but rather location and execution. At this point, I’m even willing to consider the possibility of it being a mental thing. Regardless of the issue, the Renegade needs to figure it out, and fast.