When the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Erik Bedard to a one-year, $4.5 million contract, I thought it was a reasonable gamble. While Bedard has often been injured throughout his career, he'd always managed to pitch well when he did take the mound. All the Pirates had to hope for was that Bedard would remain healthy into July and then they could flip him to a contender for a prospect.
But then the Pirates remained in the playoff chase and they kept Bedard. If the Pirates fall short of the playoffs -- and they're struggling right now, with 13 losses over the past 18 games -- they may look back with some regret about giving Bedard as many starts as they did.
That's easy to say in hindsight, of course. On one level, his numbers aren't as bad as his 7-14 record and 5.01 ERA indicate. He's averaging 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and his FIP -- fielding independent pitching -- is 4.07, an indicator that he's perhaps been a little unlucky. He's hit the wall of late, of course, allowing 25 runs in 25.2 innings over his past five starts, leading the Pirates to release him.
Some of that was perhaps predictable: His struggles began as he hit the 100-inning limit. While he managed to pitch effectively with Seattle and Boston in 2008, '09 and '11, he also averaged just 98 innings per season (he threw 129.1 last year). It's fair to say the Pirates probably should have started thinking of a contingency plan for Bedard by mid-July, just in case.
There's another side to his numbers that show why carrying a pitcher like Bedard is always a gamble. In part because of some lousy performance, and in part because of a desire to keep him healthy, Bedard has had 14 starts of five innings or fewer, the most of any major league starter. Not including anyone who started for the Rockies, the next-highest total is Tim Lincecum's 11. So even if you want to argue that Bedard was better than his numbers indicate, that doesn't take into account that he was hurting the Pirates with his inability to pitch deeper into games.
The Pirates made the right call in letting him go. But they're going to be kicking themselves that they didn't make another move a month ago.