David Bednar was an unproven San Diego Padres pitcher when he was first featured here at FanGraphs in March 2020. The burly right-hander had made just 13 big-league appearances, all in the previous season when he’d allowed eight runs in 11 innings of undistinguished work. A 35th-round draft pick four years prior, he’d been lightly regarded as a prospect.
Fast forwarding to today, Bednar is one of the most dominant closers in the game. Now pitching for his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates, the hard-throwing hurler is coming off of an All-Star season where he logged 39 saves, a 2.00 ERA, and a 2.53 FIP. Since being acquired in a three-deal in January 2021, he boasts a 2.25 ERA and a 2.56 FIP, as well as a hefty 31.2% strikeout rate.
How has the 6-foot-1, 250-pound reliever evolved since we first spoke? I asked him that question when the Bucs visited Wrigley Field in late September.
“I’m able to command all three of my pitches in the zone better,” said Bednar. “I also have a better idea of where my misses are. Another big thing is having the confidence to trust my stuff in the zone. I know it sounds redundant, but I’m just competing in the zone. When I attack guys and keep all of my lanes the same, good things happen.”
Bednar feels that his raw stuff is much the same as what it was before his breakthrough. Along with the aforementioned strides, how he sequences has gone a long way toward his success. A former teammate played a big role.
“A guy I kind of modeled my game on is Kirby Yates, how he works and how he gets guys out,” explained Bednar. “He commands the top and bottom of the zone, and plays his split off that. I try to mix all three together — my heater, breaking ball, and split — and just go after guys. Basically, I step on the gas and attack.”
His success speaks for itself, and that’s just the way he likes it. Bragging isn’t Bednar’s thing. Asked if he deserves more national attention than he gets, the humble hurler replied that he’s “just happy to be out there.” He credited his Pirates teammates for “grinding out games” and giving him opportunities to close them out — which he’s been doing with aplomb. As for whether he thinks he’d receive more accolades if he pitched in a bigger market… let’s just say he’s happy where he’s at.
“Would I get more accolades? Beats me,” Bednar said. “I just know that I love Pittsburgh.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Hitter-pitcher matchups, while fun, obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt. That is especially true when the sample sizes are small, with the above mano a mano Pickles-Sweetbread serving as a good example. Given more opportunities, Abraham Lincoln Bailey might very well have fared better against William Martin Dillhoefer. Which brings us to Jorge Polanco, who earlier this week was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Seattle Mariners.
Polanco is a combined 9 for 11 with two doubles, a triple, and four home runs versus Logan S. Allen and Nick Pivetta. Conversely, he is 0-for-19 with five strikeouts (and no walks) versus Cal Quantrill.
Do those numbers mean much? No, but they are interesting. To me, anyway.
Richard Lovelady would embrace being on a winning team, and he’ll hopefully get that opportunity in the upcoming season. Earlier this week, the 28-year-old left-handed reliever reportedly inked a free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs, a club which went 83-79 last year and promises to be better in 2024. They’ll certainly log more Ws than Lovelady’s previous employers, those being the Kansas City Royals (103 losses in his 2019 rookie season) and the Oakland Athletics, who are coming off a an even more abysmal campaign.
He nearly played on a powerhouse last year. Lovelady was purchased by the Atlanta Braves from the Royals at the end of March, only to be put on waivers and claimed by the A’s. Instead of seeing action with a team that won 104 games, he spent the season with one that won just 50 times and were on the losing end 112 times.
Midway through the season, I broached that subject with the erstwhile Kennesaw State University Owl. His response was measured and matter-of-fact.
“You’re still on a professional baseball team,” Lovelady said with a shrug. “We obviously don’t have as many wins as they do, but they’re not really doing anything different than we are. We’re going to the ballpark the same. We’re putting on a uniform the same. We’re doing the hitting and pitching we’re paid to do. It’s just that you have to execute, and they’re executing.”
The lefty’s response was similar when I brought up how the Royals teams he was with all finished with losing ledgers.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams like that in my professional career,” acknowledged Lovelady, who has made 73 big-league appearances and has a 5.26 ERA over 65 innings. “I’ve been on teams that haven’t performed to their expectations, but you can’t get caught up in that stuff. You have to do what you can to keep the culture of the clubhouse the same. You have to keep everybody motivated toward one goal, and that’s to win every single day.”
The Cubs certainly won’t do that in 2024, but again, they will almost assuredly win far more often than Lovelady’s previous clubs did. If all goes as planned, he’ll experience something he missed out on when the Braves bid him adieu — taking the mound for a winner.
Which player has been charged with the most errors at the shortstop position in the divisional era (1969 onward)? A hint: he played his entire career in the National League.
The answer can be found below.
Larry Rothschild has been hired as a pitching consultant by the independent Frontier League’sWindy City ThunderBolts, who are managed by former Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Jenks. The 69-year-old Rothschild pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 1981 and 1982 before going on to manage the Tampa Bay Devils and serve as a pitching coach for five big-league teams, most recently the San Diego Padres in 2020 and 2021.
The Miami Marlins are hiring Sam Mondry-Cohen to the role of Vice President, Player Personnel (per @CraigMish). Previously an assistant GM with the Washington Nationals and an analytics coordinator with the Chicago White Sox, Mondry-Cohen was featured here at FanGraphs in January 2020.
The Tampa Bay Rays will formally induct Dave Wills into the team’s Hall of Fame on April 14. A radio broadcaster with the Rays for 19 seasons, Wills died unexpectedly last March at age 58.
The 2024 SABR Analytics Conference will include a State of the Baseball Biomechanics Industry Panel comprising Arnel Aguinaldo (Point Loma Nazarene University), Adam Nebel (Auburn University), Mike Sonne (Chicago Cubs), and Ethan Stewart (Oakland Athletics). More information on the conference, which will be held in Phoenix from March 8-10, can be found here.
SABR’s Oral History Committee is hosting a Zoom interview with former New York Mets and Texas Rangers pitcher Jon Matlack this coming Tuesday (February 6) at 7pm ET. All are invited and you can preregister here.
Don Lassetter, an outfielder who appeared in four games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957, died on January 22nd at age 90. The Newman, Georgia native logged two big-league hits, the first of them a triple off of Chicago Cubs rookie right-hander Dick Drott, who went 15-11 that year (and henceforth 12-35 over six more seasons).
The answer to the quiz is Garry Templeton, who was charged with 384 errors as a shortstop from 1976-1991. (note: The mention of which player has the second-most errors is now deleted, as it was incorrect. Thanks to the reader who pointed out the database issue which prompted the error.)
A few notes on Jimy Williams, who died earlier this week at age 80.
Prior to managing the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, and Houston Astros, the Santa Monica native played eight professional seasons, the second of which saw him get a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1966. The first of his 12 big-league plate appearances was notable, as was his third. Williams fanned as a pinch-hitter against Sandy Koufax in his MLB debut, and not long thereafter he hit a run-scoring single off of Juan Marichal.
Williams played with the Montreal Expos’ Triple-A affiliate in 1970, a season that saw the club begin in Buffalo only to move to Manitoba a month and a half later. Burdened by abysmal attendance and antiquated facilities near the Niagara River, the Bisons migrated northwest and became the Winnipeg Whips. Williams’s teammates that year included Mike Marshall, who four years later would make a single-season record 106 pitching appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In 1992, this between his first two managerial stints, Williams was the third base coach who waved Sid Bream home for the winning run as the Atlanta Braves beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in NLCS Game 7.
Carlos Santana’s signing with Minnesota — the 37-year-old switch-hitting first baseman reportedly agreed to a one-year deal on Friday — doesn’t qualify as big news, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make a big impact on a Twins team looking to repeat as AL Central champions. Along with veteran leadership, Santana will bring with him a bat that has produced 301 home runs and a 116 wRC+, as well as solid defensive skills. Moreover, he’ll bring an unmatched level of reliability. Since debuting with Cleveland in 2010, Santana has played in 1930 games, the most of any player in baseball (the humble slugger addressed his durability here at Sunday Notes this past April). With a potential red-flag caveat that last year’s 10.5% walk rate was a career low, and his .318 OBP was 38 points below his career average, Santana appears to be a shrewd addition.
The Caribbean Series got underway on Thursday, and with three days’ worth of games completed, Venezuela is one of two undefeated teams. The Ozzie Guillen-led squad beat the Dominican Republic 3-1 on Thursday— Yasiel Puig homered — and yesterday they edged past Curaçao 4-2. Panama is the other team to start with a pair of wins. Iván Herrera had three hits, including a home run, in a 7-3 conquest of Curaçao on Friday. Yesterday’s win was more dramatic. Down by a pair to Mexico going into the bottom of the ninth, Panama plated three runs to win 4-3. Johnny Santos, who’d homered earlier, walked it off with a two-out triple.
The Australian Baseball League championship series began on Friday with the Perth Heat walking off the Adelaide Giants in 13 innings courtesy of a Carlos Sanchez two-bagger, the 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds prospect plating 21-year-old Tampa Bay Rays prospect Raudelis Martinez for a 4-3 Heat win. Adelaide then rallied to win Game 2 by a score of 6-3, a fifth-inning two-run homer by Quincy Latimore, who was celebrating his 35th birthday, giving them a lead they didn’t relinquish.That brought us to a deciding Game 3 in which…
…Adelaide captured its second straight ABL title, which is formally known as the Clayton Shield. Briley Knight — a 24-year-old Perth native who played collegiately stateside at the University of Portland — delivered the big blow, stroking a tie-breaking two-run double in the eighth inning to give the Heat a 3-1 win. Former Minnesota Twins prospect Todd Van Steensel earned the save and was named tourney MVP.
A random obscure former player snapshot:
Chuck Churn had a career record of 3-2 while appearing in 25 games for three teams from 1957-1959. Born Charles Nottingham Churn in Bridgetown, Virginia on February 1, 1930, the right-hander was credited with the second of his three wins on September 11, 1959 when the Los Angeles Dodgers rallied for a pair of runs in the ninth inning to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 5-4. The losing pitcher was Elroy Face, who fell to 17-1.
Mookie Betts has far outpaced J.D. Martinez in fWAR since debuting in 2014, accumulating 58.5 while his erstwhile teammate has logged just 28.7 over the 10-year span. That said, the following statistical comparison is eye-opening:
Betts: 1,265 games, 2,656 total bases, .294 BA, .381 wOBA, 140 wRC+.
Martinez: 1,270 games, 2,648 total bases, .293 BA .380 wOBA, 140 wRC+.
There is little question that Betts has been the superior player — speed and defense matter — but again, an eye-opening comp. While they differ as hitters, in some respects they have barely differed at all.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how NPB pitchers are embracing Driveline’s data-driven training programs.
Who are the all-time best Philadelphia Phillies? Scott Youngson shared his opinion on that subject at Pitcher List.
MLB.com’s Elizabeth Muratore wrote about five accomplished Black women in baseball comprising a panel at the Jackie Robinson Museum late last month.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Atlanta Braves scored 53.5% of their runs via the long ball last season, the highest percentage in the majors. The Cleveland Guardians scored 30.9% of their runs via the long ball, the lowest percentage in the majors.
Tyler Wells had a .200 BABIP-against last year, the lowest among pitchers to throw at least 100 innings. David Peterson had a .370 BABIP-against, the highest among pitchers to throw at least 100 innings.
Bob Stanley was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of a New Hampshire high school in 1973, but didn’t sign. “Steamer” subsequently signed with the Red Sox after being selected in the January phase of the 1974 draft and went on to pitch in 637 games — the most in franchise history — over 13 Boston seasons.
Mickey Mantle had 33 plate appearances in the 1960 World Series and put just six balls into play for outs. The Commerce Comet had 10 hits (including three home runs), eight walks, and nine strikeouts.
The New York Yankees purchased the contracts of Hugh High and Wally Pipp from the Detroit Tigers on today’s date in 1915. Pipp, who had broken into pro ball as a catcher with the Southern Michigan League’s Kalamazoo Celery Pickers, proceeded to spend 10 seasons as the Yankees’ regular first baseman before being displaced by Lou Gehrig.
The Boston Red Sox claimed Bronson Arroyo off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates on today’s date in 2003. Arroyo not only went on to log 139 of his 148 big-league wins, he celebrated a World Series title with the Red Sox in 2004.
Players born on today’s date include Dennis Konuszewski, a right-handed pitcher whose big-league career comprised one appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1995. The University of Michigan product allowed four of the five Houston Astros batters he faced to reach, those per a walk, a pop-fly single, and two ground-ball singles through the five-six hole. His career ERA is an unlucky 54.00.
Also born on today’s date was Jack Perrin, an outfielder whose career comprised four games and 13 plate appearances for the Boston Red Sox in 1921. A native of Escanaba, Michigan (the same city yours truly was born in), Perrin logged all three of his big-league hits in a July double-header at Detroit’s Navin Field. He went on to play in six games for the National Football League’s Hartford Blues in 1926, kicking a field goal and three extra-points.
The Union Association’s St. Louis Maroons went 94-19 in 1884. Buttercup Dickerson, Sleeper Sullivan, and Orator Shafer all played for the Maroons, as did Fred “Sure Shot” Dunlap, who slashed .412/.448/.621. Per his B-Ref bio page, Dunlap’s death in 1902, at age, 43 was attributed to “Tubercular Distended Rectum.”