David Bednar can put a pretty bow on what has been a third straight outstanding season by the Pittsburgh Pirates closer if he has a strong final week.
The two-time All-Star needs three saves in the last six games – a stretch that begins Tuesday night in Philadelphia – to reach 40. That would put him on an exclusive list of Pirates’ relievers.
Since the save became an official statistic in 1969, just four Pirates have had 40-save seasons – Mark Melancon (51 in 2015), Mike Williams (46 in 2002), Jose Mesa (43 in 2004) and Joel Hanrahan (40 in 2011).
Bednar has 59 saves and a 2.28 ERA in 186 games over three seasons with the Pirates since being acquired from the San Diego Padres during the 2020-21 offseason. In 194.2 innings, he has allowed 155 hits and 62 walks while striking out 240.
Digging into the statistics a little deeper, Bednar is clearly having one of the best runs ever by a Pirates reliever.
His 2.28 ERA is third in franchise history among pitchers who have logged at least 150 career innings with the Pirates while making at least 80% of their appearances in relief. Bednar trails just Melancon (1.80) and Felipe Vazquez (2.27).
In fact, Bednar is just one of 12 pitchers in that category with a sub-3.00 ERA. The others on the list are Bill Landrum (2.32), Mike Gonzalez (2.37), Ramon Hernandez (2.51), Hanrahan (2.59), Kent Tekulve (2.68), Tony Watson (2.68), Jared Hughes (2.72), Dave Giusti (2.94) and Richard Rodriguez (2.98).
Melancon (0.926) is the only pitcher with a better WHIP than Bednar’s 1.066. Rounding out the top five are Vazquez (1.079), Watson (1.088) and Rodriguez (1.090).
Bednar has also allowed just 6.8 hits per nine innings. The only reliever with a lower figure is Gonzalez at 6.7.
Bednar’s 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings trails just Jason Grilli (12.4) and Vazquez (11-8) while the Mars Area High School graduate’s 4.02 strikeout/walk ratio stands fifth behind Melancon (5.74), Rodriguez (4.19), Matt Capps (4.16) and Vazquez (4.08).
A few conclusions can be made from these statistics, including that Melancon might be the best reliever in Pirates’ history, Vazquez torpedoed a potentially historic career by running afoul of the law in 2019 and winding up in prison, and former general manager Neal Huntington had a knack for building good bullpens.
The biggest takeaway, though, is that Bednar has been pretty darn good for the Pirates at a bargain price. He is making just $745,000 this season.
However, that is going to change this winter. Bednar becomes eligible for salary arbitration for the first time and figures to get a substantial raise through the process.
Thus, The Pirates have a potentially difficult decision coming up.
Do they trade Bednar in the offseason when the 28-year-old’s value is very high and get a substantial return while also infuriating the fans by trading a hometown hero? Or do they keep him, add some players in the offseason and try to make a run at the postseason in 2024?
A case can be made either way. However, the numbers show that Bednar is already putting himself among the best Pirates’ relievers ever.
Following a season in which they have had a substantial attendance increase, it would make no sense to kill that momentum by upsetting the customers.