Under the Hood: What’s going on with David Bednar and Héctor Neris

Life, like underlying data, can be tricky. Although time did not allow itself last week, it’s time for another Under the Hood session featuring two relievers in the National League Central. Acknowledging ERA can be a fluky statistic, lets post some surface numbers for the two relievers:

  • Reliever A: 17 games, 19:5 K:BB, 1.53 WHIP
  • Reliever B: 16 games, 13:14 K:BB, 1.80 WHIP

Which one owns the lower ERA? As one can assume, it’s Reliever B, Héctor Neris. Despite his inflated WHIP, he’s posted a 3.00 ERA through 15 innings this season. Reliever A, David Bednar has a 9.00 ERA even though he allows less contact, throws more strikes, and induces more whiffs. Using season-to-date results, each reliever’s outcomes, and outlook will be explored in today’s post.

David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates

It’s tough not rooting for the “Renegade“. He’s a hometown talent playing in front of friends and family. However, he missed most of the spring with a latissimus dorsi issue and had a rough start to his season. Fantasy managers assumed with more repetitions that Bednar would find past form, which can still happen.

Seeing his current ERA, and his 3.03 SIERA, a metric on Fangraphs that predicts in-season ERA better than other ones such as FIP, one envisions him as a potential buy low from a fantasy perspective. But he must improve his results, especially in contact allowed and with his four-seam fastball placement.

Beginning with his contact trends this season, he’s produced a career-worst 30.4 percent line drive rate, fueling a disparity in his quality of contact:

  • 2.2 pop-up percentage plus 4.3 percent weak contact = 6.5 percent poor contact-induced
  • 8.7 solid contact percentage plus a 13 percent barrel rate = 21.7 good contact allowed

As a comparison, here’s his heatmap from Statcast with his pitches this year:

However, on hits this season, one notices most are on fastballs at the middle or bottom third of the strike zone:

Location may play a part in his early struggles, but when viewing his splits-by-pitch this year versus past results, the fastball results jump off the chart:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/J2Lfr/2/

One would think he would throw more of his secondary pitches, but he’s increased his four-seam use early on this year:

Hope lies in improved results with the curve, which has suffered a steep drop in swinging strike percentage in 2024. Delving into his leverage trends, there are no major differences, which may mean better outcomes lie in the offing:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/rwSLw/3/

It’s tough giving up on a closer like Bednar, especially when he’s produced a 19.4 K-BB percentage with a 65.4 strike percentage and a 72.9 percent contact rate allowed. Monitor his results over the next two weeks closely, especially the curve, and hope this will be a small sample fantasy players forget about as the year progresses.

Héctor Neris, Chicago Cubs

It’s been a running joke in the game recaps, but he’s been the “Teflon” man during high-leverage events. He’s logged 16 appearances this year with one clean outing. He’s issued at least a walk during 10 games, and multiple walks in three.

He’s staved off trouble by increasing his ground ball percentage, currently at a career-best 54.8 percent. Despite the high volume of traffic on the bases in his outings, he’s only induced one groundball double play out of 22 opportunities. Like Bednar, he’s not performed great in terms of quality of contact, but it does not have as large of a disparity:

  • 2.4 pop-up percentage plus a 9.5 percent weak contact rate = 11.9 percent poor contact-induced
  • 7.1 solid percentage plus an 11.9 percent barrel rate = 18.9 percent good contact allowed

Leaning into his split-finger fastball has helped him avoid implosions:

But, when diving into his splits by pitch this year compared with past results, there are some eye-opening numbers:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/juCNv/1/

Taking this step further, his leverage trends in this updated chart:

Link: https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/ZmOLj/3/

One cannot refute Neris being a valuable component of Chicago’s leverage ladder, but it’s tough staving off this much pending migration, especially with a negative K-BB percentage. He’s relied on and produced results with the split-finger fastball, but he will be forced to adjust if hitters lay off this pitch moving forward. It will be intriguing to see how he performs through the end of May, and into June. Note his 5.75 SIERA entering his next appearance.

Thanks for being a part of the Closer Monkey community. Stay safe and be well.

Statistical Credits: