What’s the Deal With David Bednar?

Does Jerry Seinfeld have the answer to Bednar's struggles?

What would Jerry Seinfeld think of David Bednar’s season thus far? He is a baseball fan, though the Mets haven’t given him much reason to watch. Maybe he does know about Bednar and maybe he’s wondering the same thing we all are: What’s the deal with David Bednar?

Is he okay? Is he washed? How can he turn it around?

Those are fair questions, especially with the Pittsburgh native having posted a 6.75 ERA across his first 21.1 innings this year. To truly understand Bednar’s deal, we must get to know him.

In 2016, the San Diego Padres drafted Bednar in the 32nd round. He worked up to Double-A before debuting with the Padres in 2019.

I had no idea Bednar played for the Padres before writing this and it’s making me reconsider my post as the host of Pitcher List’s bullpen podcast.

Bednar made his way to the Pirates via the Joe Musgrove deal ahead of the 2021 campaign and had an impressive debut in black and yellow. Across 60.2 IP, Bednar posted a 2.23 ERA with a 32.5% strikeout rate (K%) and looked primed to be the team’s closer of the future.

That future was closer than expected as Bednar would take over the closer role midway through 2022, recording a 2.61 ERA (51.2 IP) with a 32.9% K% and 19 saves. That performance earned him his first All-Star selection. He would make it two in a row with a career-best season in 2023 as he solidified himself as a top-10 closer in the league.

Bednar’s 2.00 ERA (67.1 IP) came with a National League-leading 39 saves and a 28.9% strikeout rate. Heading into 2024, he was deemed one of the safest closers in baseball.

His fortunes would change as he dealt with lat tightness in the offseason leading to a delayed start to his Spring. Bednar wasn’t game-ready when Opening Day came, however, the team opted to keep him on the big league roster rather than place him on the IL. Bednar missed a save opportunity but wound up making his season debut on March 30th.

It went well. He pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout and everyone’s worries disappeared.

They’d quickly return the next day as Bednar served up a game-tying solo home run in the ninth, but got lucky and took home a win. The fear started to creep back in until he locked down a perfect save a few days later.

Then the real fun began. Bednar would go on to allow 14 runs (13 earned) across his next 10 appearances (eight IP) through May 1st. He recorded just four saves in that span and racked up a 14.63 ERA.

Fantasy managers feared the worst, but Bednar has turned things around recently. In his last 12 appearances, he has a 1.59 ERA (11.1 IP), though it’s come with a concerning 17.8% strikeout rate, far from the 30%+ rates he sported in his heydey.

Now we get to the hard part – attempting to figure out what’s gotten Bednar down this year. It’s easy to explain away his early struggles with his late start to Spring while likely dealing with the lingering effects of his lat injury. The first month of the season was basically his Spring Training. So it makes sense that he would finally get into a groove in May.

That hypothesis doesn’t explain the disappearance of his strikeouts this month. A deep dive into his underlying metrics should be able to demonstrate that.

Taking a peek at Bednar’s luck stats shows that he’s been unfortunate. His .328 BABIP and 52.2% LOB% both suggest he’s been unlucky, but they don’t account for the increased amount of balls in play – a direct result of his reduced strikeout rate (and reduced walk rate).

It sounds simple, but everything can be blamed on his fastball. Bednar deploys a three-pitch mix — a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a splitter. His usage of that trio hasn’t changed much throughout the years as he generally throws his fastball 55% of the time, the curve 25% of the time, and the splitter 20% of the time.

The curve has been located extremely poorly with most of them ending up in the upper third of the strike zone (42.5% hiLoc%). However, the shape of the pitch has not changed and has graded out similarly in the CSW (36.8%) and PLV (4.69) departments when compared to past iterations of the pitch. Most impressively, it’s yet to allow a hit this year.

Meanwhile, the splitter is a swinging strike machine (22.7% SwStr) and Bednar’s located it in the lower third of the zone more often than any year previously, showcasing his feel and command of the pitch this year. When batters do make contact, Bednar is inducing weak contact (15.4% ICR).

With the splitter performing exceptionally and the curveball getting good results despite bad locations, all of the poor results are coming on his main offering.

At the highest average velocity of his career (96.8 mph), Bednar’s heater has elite iVB (17.8 in), and when paired with his above-average extension and vertical approach angle, he feasts upstairs with the pitch. Well…he used to. Bednar has seen the hiLoc% on his fastball fall from 68.1% in 2023 to 55.4% this year. Almost all of those pitches that used to end up high have been yanked low.

Those low heaters have been crushed to the tune of a .311 AVG, 49% ICR, and 14.3% Barrel rate. With his four-seamer being his most-thrown pitch, that level of contact quality has an outsized effect on his results, as the majority of the batted balls from opposing batters are coming against the heater, and it’s resulting in damage.

The best way to understand the difference between Bednar in 2024 and Bednar at his peak last year is to compare one game from each season. The first is from September 17th, 2023 when he struck out the side against the Yankees, inducing five whiffs on his heater while using his secondaries to keep hitters off the pitch.

All but one of Bednar’s 11 fastballs landed in the upper third of the zone. It’s very clear that Bednar is saving the bottom third of the zone for his secondaries – a classic Blake Snell Blueprint approach. He absolutely dominated with the fastball here and that’s what’s missing from Bednar’s game this year.

To compare, we’ll take a look at Bednar’s appearance from April 9th, 2024 where he recorded just one out against the Tigers while surrendering four runs on three hits and a walk. It was his worst outing of the season, but the strike zone plot epitomizes the deal with Bednar this year.

See those three red dots at the bottom? Those shouldn’t be there. When he was at his peak, Bednar never missed down in the zone. Now he’s missing all over, especially low and right down the middle. The pitch recorded just one whiff and yielded three balls in play. The 2024 version of the fastball is holding Bednar back.

That’s why, despite the shrinking ERA, Bednar still doesn’t feel like he’s returned to form. That game was at the height of his struggles, but looking at strike zone plots of his recent outings reveals the same thing: low heaters. He’s just been more fortunate on results after being unlucky in the early-going

This isn’t great news as Bednar’s struggles with command are still present and could still be related to his awkward start to the season. The silver lining is that it’s easy to fix. Bednar has proven to have the ability to locate up in the zone, and once a player displays a skill, he has that in his toolbag for the rest of his career. Whether or not he can find that tool is another question.

So, what’s the deal with David Bednar? He’s throwing his fastball low in the zone.

I expect him to turn it around and I’d be buying low everywhere in fantasy baseball leagues. All of the ingredients for success are there and we’ve seen them create good dishes in the past, Bednar just has to remember the recipe.


Jake Crumpler

A Bay Area sports fan and lover of baseball, Jake is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz with a B.A. in English Literature. He currently writes fantasy articles for Pitcher List, is the lead baseball writer at The Athletes Hub, and does playing time analysis at BaseballHQ. Some consider his knowledge of the sport to be encyclopedic.

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