David Bednar has caught the attention of fantasy baseball managers seeking to acquire saves in the middle rounds of late preseason drafts after his bounce back performance in the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
Bednar struggled early in the spring, giving up two HRs and walking two batters in his first three IP, but he gave up just one run and struck out five batters while walking none in four IP at the WBC. He was the 12th closer coming off the board according to Fantasy Pros’ consensus ADP through March 22nd, and his average pick has increased by 14 in ESPN snake drafts over the past seven days.
Bednar began the 2022 season sharing closer duties with Chris Stratton but with nine saves, four holds and a 0.75 ERA in his first 20 appearances, he became the Pirates’ primary closer by the end of May.
Overall, Bednar saved 19 games and pitched to a 2.61 ERA and a 1.123 WHIP last season. He posted career best strikeout (12.02 K/9) and walk (2.79 BB/9) rates as well as a career low 0.70 HR/9 rate. All three of his pitches (four-seam fastball, curveball, split fingered fastball) generate a generous percentage of whiffs, and contributed to a season long overall Whiff % in the 92nd percentile. Bednar’s curveball induced the most whiffs (38.1) among his three offerings, and he relied on it a bit more last season as compared to the 2021 season.
The fact that he was able to convert 19 saves on a team that won just 62 games is impressive, especially since he missed nearly two months of the season due to a lower back injury. Bednar pitched multiple innings in 11 of his first 25 appearances and his overuse might have contributed to his landing on the IL. In an effort to increase his flexibility and avoid landing on the IL this season Bednar revamped his offseason training program, incorporating yoga and preventive physical therapy to his workout regimen.
Bednar’s name was mentioned in several trade rumors last season, but the Pirates wisely held off from moving him. He’s an integral part of the team as evidenced by their 31-14 won/loss record in the 45 games that he pitched in. They were 31-86 in games in which Bednar did not appear. His name has already been mentioned in potential trades that would send him to the Mets, but those rumors are likely just the result of Mets fans’ wishful thinking. However, Bednar will once again be targeted in potential deals as this season’s MLB trade deadline approaches and the Pirates inevitably fall out of contention. If he is eventually traded that could impact his fantasy value because there’s no guarantee that he would be his new team’s primary closer.
Other than Bednar, the Pirates’ bullpen is rather weak. If Bednar were to be traded, Wil Crowe would probably get the first crack at replacing him. Unfortunately, he didn’t fare too well when Bednar was on the IL last season. He had a 2-4 won/loss record, 7.13 ERA in 17.2 IP while Bednar was sidelined. Crowe saved two games, blew a save and recorded one hold during that time frame as well.
The Pirates are high on Robert Stephenson, who is expected to start the season on the IL. He had a 3.38 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 13.1 IP for the Pirates last season. He doesn’t have much of a track record, but we’ll give him a pass since he’s spent his career pitching for the Reds and Rockies.
Other potential replacements should Bednar eventually get traded include Yerry De Los Santos, Colin Holderman and Jose Hernandez and Dauri Moreta (10 Ks, 1 BB 7.2 IP this spring) each have some minor league closing experience. De Los Santos even saved three games for the Pirates last season.
On the other hand, the fact that the Pirates didn’t trade Bednar at last season’s trade deadline may be a sign that they may opt to attempt to sign him to a long term deal ahead of his first year of arbitration. With most major projection models predicting that he can save between 25 and 31 games this upcoming season Bednar is a good example of a closer whose skill set can help him to rise above his surroundings and provide good fantasy value even though he pitches for a team that is not expected to be very competitive.
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