Pittsburgh Pirates closer David Bednar has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball since joining the club in 2021. Over his three seasons as a Pirate, he has pitched to a 2.23 ERA, struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings and has a 190 ERA+ meaning he is 90 percent better than the average big-league pitcher. For comparison’s sake, Jacob DeGrom’s ERA+ in his 2019 CY Young season was 169. Hopefully the St. Louis Cardinals do not have to see him this series, but in case they do, let’s familiarize ourselves with his stuff.
Pitch #1 - Four seam - 2023 usage rate - 57 percent
2023 stats - .129 xBA, .288 xSLG, .174 xwOBA
Average velo - 96.2 MPH - Spin rate - 2,472 RPM - vertical movement - 11.5 inches - horizontal movement - 8.4 inches
This season, Bednar’s four seamer might be the best in baseball. It does not grade among the elite in terms of spin rate or movement, but it is still dominant as ever. Batters have just 5 hits against it this season compared to 16 strikeouts. The whiff rate on it is 39.4 percent and the pop-up percentage is an eye popping 30.4 percent. That pop-up rate is typically pretty unsustainable and is the majority of the reason the expected metrics are so low against it, but even as that number comes down it will still likely be a dominant pitch — especially considering the average exit velocity against it right now is only 87.3 MPH.
Pitch #2 - Curveball - 2023 usage rate - 26.6 percent
2023 stats - .212 xBA, .274 xSLG, .211 xwOBA
Average velo - 77.1 MPH - Spin rate - 2,427 RPM - vertical movement - 55.2 inches - horizontal movement - 8.8 inches
Shockingly, this is the pitch that Bednar throws in the zone at the highest rate with a 53.1 percent in zone percentage, 6 percent higher than his four seamer. Based on the quality of contact this is Bednar’s worst pitch, but those numbers would be the best pitch the majority of pitchers in the MLB. The chase rate this season of 36.8 percent is his lowest rate amongst all of his pitches, but it is up 13 percent from last season. Bednar’s curveball has excelled at limiting hard contact this season as the hard-hit rate (batted balls 95+ MPH) against it is just 23.5 percent and the average exit velocity is only 79.5 percent.
Pitch #3 - Split finger - 2023 usage rate - 16.4 percent
2023 stats - .169 xBA, .236 xSLG, .176 xwOBA
Average velo - 91.9 MPH - Spin rate - 1,708 RPM - vertical movement - 27.7 inches - horizontal movement - 9.3 inches
This is Bednar’s go-to pitch to generate whiff and ground balls. The whiff rate against it is 50 percent, a 19.1 percent increase from his 2022 mark and the ground ball rate on it is 60 percent. The launch angle against is -2 degrees and the fly ball percentage is just 20 percent. When Bednar is ahead in the count it becomes his second most used pitch at 24.2 percent, 4.2 percent ahead of his curveball. However, when he is behind in the count, it plummets down to 4.1 percent. Getting ahead in the count against Bednar is key because at that point he effectively becomes a two-pitch pitcher.
Key matchup - Paul Goldschmidt - Goldy has faced Bednar just 8 times in his career, so we cannot put really any stock in their matchups against each other because of the limited sample size, but we can evaluate how he does against the pitches Bednar uses. After dominating four seamers last season with a run value of 19 against them, he has struggled against them this season posting a -2 RV. Against curveballs, his run value is 3, the same as last year’s tally. Unfortunately, though, he has only seen 50 splitters since the start of last season so there is not enough there to make any type of judgment. Expect for Goldy to see a steady diet of elevated four seamers from Bednar if the two are to face off seeing as it is the only pitch, he has faced 10 plus times this season that he has a negative run value against.