Erik Bedard is exactly the sort of pitcher a team signs to a one-year contract, and last December, the Pirates signed Bedard to a one-year contract worth $4.5 million. At the time, I’m guessing the Pirates figured they probably wouldn’t still have Bedard come September. He’d be an interesting wild card for a Pirates team with an outside shot, but more likely he’d either get hurt or traded to a contender. You don’t sign Erik Bedard because you’re making big plans around Erik Bedard.
The calendar is just about to turn, and, sure enough, the Pirates no longer have Erik Bedard. Viewed that way, this has played out about as expected. But Bedard isn’t known to be hurt, nor has he been traded away to a contender. Rather, the Pirates simply released Bedard outright, citing inconsistency and under-performance. The thinking with Bedard has long been that he’ll be effective as long as he’s healthy. He’s been healthy, and lately, he’s been ineffective.
At the end of the day, the inconsistency wasn’t getting us where we wanted to go.
A very simple summation of the problems, but then, “at the end of the day” implies that a very simple summation is going to follow. What the Pirates say publicly isn’t necessarily how the Pirates feel in private, so this Bedard decision could have more layers to it than phyllo dough, but we’re here to tackle only what’s known, and what’s known is that Bedard has generated poor results and just got dropped by a team in contention.
Anything written about Bedard will mention his hot start and subsequent slump. Bedard’s started 24 games this season, and we can very conveniently split them into two groups of 12. Through Bedard’s first dozen starts, he posted a 3.59 ERA with a 4-6 record. A pitcher’s won/loss record just got cited on FanGraphs. Over Bedard’s last dozen starts, he posted a 6.43 ERA with a 3-8 record. Bedard leads the major leagues in losses, which has been partly his fault, and that surely hasn’t helped his perception at all.
So, all right, what we’re interested in now are two things. First, there’s the matter of what Erik Bedard is, and whether he’s really been pitching poorly. Secondly, there’s the matter of who’s going to take his place in the Pirates’ rotation, since the Pirates are still thinking about the playoffs. The Pirates must feel confidently about what they’ve done, since this move could have significant consequences.
Let’s look at those two groups of a dozen starts, shall we?
Without question, Bedard has been pitching worse. But it probably doesn’t surprise you that he hasn’t been pitching as poorly as his elevated ERA would suggest, and just about all of this can be explained by that last column on the far right. Bedard’s shown no drop-off in strikes, contact, or grounders. But where he allowed five dingers the first dozen times out, he’s allowed nine dingers over the last dozen times out. Dingers are runs, and runs are bad, for pitchers.
Is there anything there? Maybe Bedard’s getting tired? If Bedard’s feeling fatigued, it’s not readily evident in the PITCHf/x. His pitch velocities have remained more or less unchanged, and while Bedard’s lost some mustard from a year ago, that was missing in the early part of this season, when he was having more success, so it doesn’t seem like the thing to blame.
Working against Bedard is that he isn’t a pitcher who can just be evaluated by rates. Rates deliberately ignore counting stats like plate appearances and innings, and Bedard isn’t a guy who works deep. Just five times has he reached 100 pitches, and just once has he exceeded 110. Each plate appearance of Bedard’s is a chore. When Erik Bedard is starting, you know that someone else is going to finish, and you know that other guys are probably going to pitch before the finisher.
So Bedard’s gotten worse from last season, and in-game stamina isn’t one of his strengths. Of late, he’s been allowing too many runs. But there’s compelling reason to believe that Bedard wouldn’t keep on allowing so many runs, and it’s not like he’s lost the ability to dominate. Four outings ago, he was outstanding. Two outings before that, he was outstanding. Overall, Bedard’s got a lower FIP than Mark Buehrle and a lower xFIP than Tim Hudson, and the overall numbers are meaningful.
Now we have to think about how the Pirates intend to replace Bedard going forward. After all, these moves don’t happen in isolation. Might the Pirates have a real talent up their sleeve? That depends on your talent evaluation of Kevin Correia. In truth, the Pirates are still working out how this is going to go behind their front four, but the obvious choices seem to be Correia and Jeff Locke. The in-contention Pirates have given up on Erik Bedard in favor of Kevin Correia or Jeff Locke.
Correia is as known as anybody. If it’s consistency that Clint Hurdle and the Pirates are worried about, then Kevin Correia can very consistently be himself. He’s a low-strikeout, low-walk, decent-groundball starting pitcher with a career ERA, FIP, and xFIP in the mid-4s. It’s not out of the question that Correia could generate Bedard-like results while generating other, very un-Bedard-like results. You might end up with the same innings and runs, but the feeling might be different watching Correia than it would be with Bedard.
And Locke’s a lefty who’s been perfectly serviceable with triple-A Indianapolis. He’s got three pitches, none of which are explosive or unhittable, but he’s building a minor-league track record of encouraging ratios and he has the sort of polish that could allow for a pretty smooth transition. There are worse starting pitchers than Jeff Locke in the major leagues right now, for as much or as little as that means.
You hear that the Pirates released Erik Bedard and you raise your eyebrows. You associate Bedard with a lot of talent in your head, and a lot of that talent’s still in there, even after all the injuries. Bedard’s 2012 season numbers are just fine for a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, even with the limited stamina. Where this starts to make a little more sense is in considering what Bedard has done lately, and in considering that he hasn’t reached 130 innings since 2007. The Pirates strongly believe that the struggling Erik Bedard they saw lately was more like the real Erik Bedard than the effective Erik Bedard they saw early on. If that’s true, then Correia or Locke should do just fine as replacements, as Bedard wasn’t going to be much help. But if that isn’t true, and if this is simpler than it seems, then the Pirates just cut ties with a high-strikeout starter because he fell into a slump of results.
The Pirates have no choice but to move forward and hope they made the right call. And Bedard has no choice but to move forward and hope that they didn’t. Now Erik Bedard is out there, available and ready for another roll of the dice.