Sunday Notes: Back Home, David Bednar Has Been a Find For Pittsburgh

David Bednar has been a find for the Pirates. Picked up from the Padres over the offseason as part of the seven-player Joe Musgrove deal, Bednar has emerged as one of the most-reliable arms in the Pittsburgh pen. In 17 outings comprising 15-and-a-third innings, the 26-year-old right-hander has 19 strikeouts to go with a 2.35 ERA and a 2.91 FIP.

Expectations weren’t nearly that high. San Diego’s 35th-round pick in the 2016 draft, the former Lafayette College Leopard came into the current campaign with a gnarly 6.75 ERA in 17-and-a-third big-league innings. Moreover, while his velocity has always been intriguing — ditto his splitter — Bednar’s name had never been spotted near the top of a prospect list. By and large, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound hurler came to his new club unheralded, unpolished, and in need of a fresh start.

I asked Ben Cherington if the decision to acquire the Pittsburgh-born-and-bred Bednar was driven more by the team’s analytics department, or by its scouting department.

“It was both,” said the Pirates GM. “From the scouting end, I believe Andrew Lorraine was one of the pro scouts who had seen him. Joe Douglas from our professional acquisitions group is someone who dug into him from a data perspective. Plus, he’s from here, so we had some personal background as well.”

Justin Meccage has gotten to know Bednar well. As the club’s bullpen coach, he’s up close and personal with the righty’s continued development on a regular basis. Asked about him a Zoom call, Meccage noted not only the split-finger and plus velocity — Bednar’s heater averages 97.3 mph — but also an improved curveball. According to Meccage, Bednar made “a little bit of a grip adjustment” during spring training, giving him “a pretty good pitch in the making.”

Bednar credits a cleaned-up delivery, and not for just his curveball. He feels better mechanics have helped all of his pitches, and so too has a return to basics. Entering spring training, the rejuvenated righty wanted to “come out guns blazing, solely focused on competing and filling up the zone.” While he doesn’t eschew analytics, simplicity has truly been his M.O.. “Honestly, when you overcomplicate it is when things start going a million miles an hour on on the mound,” Bednar told me. ”Simple as possible allows you to just keep it pitch-to-pitch.”

His pitches have become sharper. Thanks to the tweaks, Bednar is doing a better job of staying direct to the plate, allowing his north-south attack plan to play up. His off-speed pitches down in the zone have been especially effective. The opposition is batting .143 against his curveball, and .211 (with a .211 slug) against his splitter. Asked which he considers his best secondary, he cited the latter. To his mind, it’s the pitch largely responsible for him getting to the big leagues.

Somewhat surprisingly, Bednar has yet to be credited with a win or a save. He claims not to be concerned — “Honestly, whenever the phone rings, I just want to get outs and get us back to the dugout” — and there’s really no reason that he should be. It’s seemingly only a matter of time. Bednar has closer stuff, and a valuable attribute to go with it:

“Mentally, this cat is impressive,” said Meccage. “This dude’s got ice in his veins.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Daryl Boston went 6 for 9 against Jeff Russell.

Elbie Fletcher went 6 for 9 against Jack Russell.

Bill Russell went 6 for 9 against Bill Stoneman,

Reb Russell went 9 for 17 against Joe Genewich.

Rip Russell went 9 for 17 against Tot Pressnell.

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A Q&A with Cole Irvin was featured here at FanGraphs this past Friday, with my conversation with the Oakland A’s southpaw centering around his cerebral approach to pitching. Left on the cutting-room floor were stories he told me about his grandfather, and about how a basketball coach’s booting him from a gym helped cement his love of baseball.

Roy Irvin was an All-American center who helped lead the University of Southern California to a Final Four appearance in 1954. Originally at Fullerton Junior College, he’d hooked on with the Trojans after turning down the most-legendary coach in NCAA basketball history.

“He was recruited by John Wooden before he was John Wooden,” Cole Irvin explained. “That’s not to say [Wooden] wasn’t good in his early days of coaching. But my grandfather turned down UCLA to go to USC. He became an All-American and was the points leader, and rebounds leader, in USC history for a few years. He was also on the school’s only Final Four team.”

The grandson has grown to be 6-foot-4, and as evidenced by his ascent to MLB, he has no shortage of athleticism. But while he competed on the hardwood growing up in Anaheim, hoops have never been his true love. Baseball is in his blood, and it has been from early age.

“Basketball has been our family thing,” said Irvin, whose father played at the junior-college level. “But when I was a little kid — probably not even a year old — my mom would have soap operas on and I’d be crying. It wasn’t until a Dodgers game came on the TV that I stopped crying. I fell asleep to Vin Scully’s voice. My mom figured that out and started recording baseball games. Whenever she needed to do something around the house, there was baseball on.”

Irvin went on to play both sports, and it was during his sophomore year of high school that one ultimately won out over the other. The decision wasn’t entirely his own.

“Our head basketball coach, Tim Kelly, came over to me,” recalled Irvin. “He goes,‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’ I said, ‘Pitching in the big leagues.’ He goes, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ I said, ‘Pitching in the College World Series.’ He goes, ‘All right, your goals aren’t anywhere close to making you a better basketball player, so get out of my gym and go play baseball.’ So I did.

“He didn’t do it in a bad way,” added Irvin. “And it’s something I’ll never forget. Coach Kelly told me that if I don’t see myself playing basketball, and if I have the talent to do well in baseball, I should play baseball. That kind of set the course of my commitment to the game. The fact that someone else saw how much I loved baseball reminded me, ‘OK, I don’t have to do basketball just because my whole family’s done basketball. I can do baseball.’”

Irvin allowed one run over six-and-two-thirds innings yesterday in Oakland’s 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins. On the year, he has a 3.02 ERA in eight starts.

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A quiz:

Miguel Cabrera ranks third in Detroit Tigers franchise history with 351 home runs. Who ranks first?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Corbin Carroll , the top prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, will reportedly miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. The 20-year-old outfielder had been 10 for 23 with a double, two triples, and two home runs for the high-A Hillsboro Hops.

Arnie Beyeler got his 1,000th managerial win — all in the minors — when the Double-A Erie SeaWolves beat the Akron Rubber Ducks on Wednesday.

Hal Breeden, a first baseman for the Chicago Cubs in 1971, and for the Montreal Expos from 1972-1975, died earlier this month at age 76. His most notable day in the majors was July 13, 1973 when he hit pinch-hit home runs in both ends of a doubleheader. Breeden later played three seasons with NPB’s Hanshin Tigers.

SABR’s Larry Dierker Chapter in Houston will hold a Zoom meeting on Monday, May 17 at 7pm CDT with former big-league player and manager Bill Virdon as the special guest. To RSVP for the virtual event, contact Joseph Thompson.

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The answer to the quiz is Al Kaline, with 399 home runs. Norm Cash ranks second, with 373.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Hiroya Miyagi is 4-0 with a 1.45 ERA for NPB’s Orix Buffaloes. The 19-year-old left-hander has allowed 23 hits and fanned 43 batters in 43-and-a-third innings.

Nick Martinez is 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts for the SoftBank Hawks. The 30-year-old former Texas Rangers right-hander spent the 2018, 2019, and 2020 seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Justin Smoak is 15 for 42 with three home runs since joining the Yomiuri Giants last month.

José Miguel Fernández is slashing .336/.396/.504 in 154 plate appearances with the KBO’s Doosan Bears. The 33-year-old former Los Angeles Angels infielder has batted .341 with an .897 OPS since taking his talents to Korea in 2019.

Shin-Soo Choo is slashing .207/.365/.397 in 148 plate appearances with SSG Landers. Seven of his 24 hits have left the yard.

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Tony Watson has been around the block. Two weeks shy of his 36th birthday, the veteran reliever has made 639 appearances since breaking into the big leagues in 2011. Originally with the Pirates, Watson has gone on to pitch for the Dodgers, the Giants, and now the Los Angeles Angels.

Prior to yesterday’s game, I asked the left-hander about the role analytics have played in his evolution as a pitcher.

“If you don’t adapt, you’re going to die,” replied Watson, who has allowed three runs in 12 innings so far this season. “My [changeup] usage over the years has gone up; last year in San Francisco I was through the roof with changeups [48.2%]. I’ve always tipped my hat on being a pitcher, on pitch-ability, being able to throw to both sides of the plate. If you look back, early in my career I was predominantly fastballs to both sides of the plate. As you age, there’s a little bit of a curve where things happen and you can’t rely on the fastballs anymore. And then the swing planes started to change as well.

“You can’t just be feeding fastballs in there; that’s what everybody’s looking for,” continued Watson, who told the story behind his changeup in a July 2019 installment of the Learning and Developing a Pitch series. “I look at analytics stuff, and lean on the guys here that are helping us out… But at the end of the day, it’s about going out there and trusting your stuff. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m just trying to be aware of what I’m doing and not fall into any patterns.”

Asked when he started to delve into analytics, Watson said it was probably in 2017 when he got traded to the Dodgers. After joining the Giants the following year, it was “a matter of evolving even more.”

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FARM UPDATES

Pete Crow-Armstrong is 10 for 24 with two doubles and two stolen bases for the low-A St. Lucie Mets. The 19-year-old outfielder is No. 6 on our New York Mets Top Prospects list.

Gabriel Moreno is 15 for 33 with three doubles and a home run for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The 21-year-old catcher is No. 7 on our Toronto Blue Jays Top Prospects list.

Hunter Greene has fanned 15 batters while allowing five hits and one walk over 10 innings for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. The 21-year-old right-hander is No. 3 on our Cincinnati Reds Top Prospects list.

Taylor Dollard has 18 strikeouts and no walks in nine innings pitched for the low-A Modesto Nuts. A fifth-round pick by the Seattle Mariners last year out of Cal Poly, the 22-year-old right-hander has surrendered seven hits and allowed one run.

A.J. Block has 16 strikeouts and two walks in eight scoreless innings for the low-A Columbia Fireflies. A non-drafted senior sign by the Kansas City Royals last year out of Washington State, the 23-year-old left-hander has allowed just one hit.


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The Los Angeles Angels acquired veteran reliever Hunter Strickland from the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday in exchange for cash considerations or a PTBNL. Asked if he was surprised that his club was able to get that good off an arm at this point of the season, Joe Maddon answered in typical Joe Maddon fashion.

“No,” replied the ever-quotable Angels manager. “He came from the Rays, who keep printing them like counterfeit bills.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Writing at The Washington Post, Micheline Maynard shared why she can’t wrap her head around baseball’s embrace of sports betting.

At Defector, Kelsey McKinney wrote about how Mets rookie Patrick Mazeika doesn’t need hits to be a king.

The Undefeated’s Clinton Yates told the story behind the Josh Bell Book Club.

Longtime Twins coach Gene Glynn has circled back to his hoop roots and will be coaching high school basketball in a small southern Minnesota town. Patrick Reusse wrote about it at The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

AZSnakepit’s Jim McClennan looked into whether Madison Bumgarner’s recent streak is the best in Diamondbacks history.

Covering The Corner’s Chris D. Davies wrote about how Cleveland’s Zach Plesac is throwing fewer fastballs and getting more ground balls.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

When Logan Gilbert and Jarred Kelenic made their debuts on Thursday, the Seattle Mariners teammates became the 19,988th and 19,989th players in MLB history (per Baseball-Reference).

Ray Caldwell was in the New York Yankees starting lineup 37 times in 1918. He took the mound in 21 of them, while the other 16 games were split between CF (10), RF (5), and LF (1). On the season, Caldwell went 9-8 with a 3.06 ERA, and slashed .291/.352/.377.

Tim Jones threw 10 scoreless innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1977. It was the right-hander’s only big-league action, giving him a career ERA of 0.00. Jones appeared in three games and was credited with one win.

There have been three single-pitcher 10-inning no-hitters in MLB history: Hooks Wiltse for the New York Giants in 1908, Fred Toney for the Cincinnati Reds in 1917, and Jim Maloney for the Cincinnati Reds in 1965.

Johnny Mize led the National League with 16 triples in 1938. The St. Louis Cardinals first baseman didn’t attempt a stolen base that season.

Ralph Worrell went 25-10 for the International League’s Baltimore Orioles in 1918. A victim of the flu pandemic that killed millions worldwide, Worrell died in November of that same year at age 20.

On today’s date in 1953, Tommy Byrne hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth inning to give the Chicago White Sox a 5-3 win over the New York Yankees. Byrne was batting for Vern Stephens, who hit 247 home runs and three times led the American League in RBIs. Byrne was a pitcher.

On today’s date in 1983, the Minnesota Twins homered four times while scoring six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Oakland A’s. It wasn’t enough, as the visitors hung on to win 7-6.

On today’s date in 2009, Nick Hundley homered in the bottom of the 16th inning to give the San Diego Padres a 6-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The extra-inning victory was the second of 10 consecutive wins for the Padres, who finished the season 75-87.

Players born on today’s date include Steven Register, who pitched in 10 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2008, and in two games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. The right-hander out of Auburn University had 67 saves in the minors, including 37 for Double-A Tulsa in 2007, but didn’t register a decision in MLB.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Alternate Joe Maddon: “Remember when I worked for a team that could find talent? Ah, those were the days.”