David Bednar Is Making a Case as an Elite Closer

One of the most fantastic things in sports is when a hometown kid has success with his hometown team. When the San Diego Padres drafted closer David Bednar in the 35th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, he was shipped to the other side of the country. As fate would have it, Bednar would return to his hometown just a few years later.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Joe Musgrove, they acquired Bednar in that three-team deal. The Pittsburgh-area Mars High School native returned to the city where his love of baseball started. He made the team out of training camp in 2021 and hasn’t looked back.

Bednar started that season as a set-up guy alongside Chris Stratton. Richard Rodriguez was the primary closer. Rodriguez was traded later that season, opening the door for Stratton and Bednar. As a closer, David Bednar went 3-for-5 in save opportunities that season but pitched to a 2.23 across 60.2 total innings. However, it was in 2022 when Bednar found his stride in that role.

David Bednar Tested in 2022 as Closer

David Bednar opened the 2022 season as the closer. In the season’s first two months, he was as dominant as inning across baseball in his role. Bednar posted a 1.38 ERA across 27 innings over the season’s first two months. He got his ERA as low as 1.14 by mid-June. He only blew his first save at that point of the season, but the fashion in which it happened raised some eyebrows.

Bednar is only sometimes relied upon for an inning of work. On June 15, manager Derek Shelton brought Bednar in during the seventh inning with one out. 43 pitches and 2 2/3 innings later, Bednar was able to notch the save. On three days rest, Bednar was asked to notch another two-inning save. He blew the save, but the Pirates won, and Bednar was credited with the rare blown save victory.

From that point on, Bednar just was quite different. Including that June 15 outing, Bednar’s five-game pitch count went as follows: 43, 32, 14, 29, and 30. He is not stretched out to be more than a one-inning guy. Bednar’s velocity was down. The sharpness of his breaking pitches just wasn’t there. He allowed at least a run in six of his next 16 outings before finally being put on the injured list.

David Bednar returned to the closer role 54 days later on September 22. He allowed an earned run in his first outing back; however, he pitched four clean innings after that to end the season.

Bednar Nearly Untouchable in 2023

2023 has been a return to the pre-injury David Bednar that closed out games for the Pirates in 2022. He’d tied for third in saves across the entire league with nine. His 0.69 ERA ranks tied for fourth in the league. He’s one of 13 closers that have yet to blow a save for his team. His K/BB ratio is 17.0, and he’s the only closer with double-digit strikeouts to walks.

He’s been a Statcast darling early on in the season too. Bednar has an average exit velocity of 84.3 MPH which is in the top-7% of the league. His expected batting average against is .148, good for the top-2% of the league. His walk percentage is 2.0%, ranking in the top-2% of the majors. He’s proving why this is more than just a feel-good, hometown kid story. David Bednar is legitimately a good closer.

In 13 appearances, Bednar has pitched 13 innings. The Pirates learned from their mistakes and have not asked him to give them length. They’ve got a few guys like Colin Holderman, Robert Stephenson, and Jose Hernandez that can lighten the load on the backend of the Pirates’ bullpen.

Bednar Is Making Quite the Case

Bednar pitched in relatively meaningless games last season. He became a trade target amongst contenders looking to improve the backend of their bullpen. General Manager Ben Cherington made it clear that Bednar and Bryan Reynolds would be moved if the Pirates were the clear winners of the deal. The 2023 version of the Pirates is reaping the rewards of that decision.

The Pirates’ hot start likely will find a cool-down spot at some point. But, if the Pirates arrived a year earlier than anyone thought, and this season continues at this pace for them, then they’ve got a closer in David Bednar, who inspires nothing but the utmost confidence in his team when he’s on the mound.

Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Players/managers mentioned:

David Bednar, Joe Musgrove, Chris Stratton. Richard Rodriguez, Derek Shelton, Colin Holderman, Robert Stephenson, Jose Hernandez, Bryan Reynolds