The Curious Case of Erik Bedard

Erik Bedard. The name alone triggers all sorts of feelings. Feelings of joy and relief, because the Orioles were able to trade away a player at the peak of his career. Feelings of frustration and anger, because the Mariners were left with the short end of the stick in the aforementioned trade. Feelings of longing and wondering, at what his career could have been had he stayed healthy. And feelings of confusion because his career has been all but forgotten about by casual fans and new fans alike. In these next few minutes, let’s take a look back at Erik Bedard’s unique career and relive all of these feelings.

Bedard’s career had the highest of highs and lowest of lows. At his peak he was a Cy Young contender in 2007, and at his low he was an afterthought and veteran minor league farmhand. But how did he get there? Bedard was drafted in 1999 by the Baltimore Orioles at the age of 20, and took a very conventional route to the majors, working his way up through several rungs of the minor league ladder. However, after finally reaching the precipice of the Major Leagues, Bedard suffered his first injury of many, tearing his UCL and requiring Tommy John surgery in 2003.

Regardless, Bedard fought back, rejoined the Orioles, and burst on the scene in 2005. Over the first two months of the season, Bedard took the league by storm with a 2.08 ERA. However, another injury, this time a sprained knee, derailed his season. Then in 2007, the pieces all came together for Bedard. He finished the season 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts. Finishing fifth in the Cy Young vote, Bedard established himself as an ace in the majors. And as crazy as it sounds, he probably should have won.

C.C. Sabathia took home first place in the 2007 AL Cy Young vote, followed by Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Roberto Hernandez, and finally Bedard in fifth place. Each of those players had great seasons, but, unlike Bedard, also played full seasons. With the Orioles finishing a dismal campaign and out of playoff contention, they shut down Bedard with a full month left to go in the season after worries of an oblique injury. However, had the Orioles been in contention, Bedard would have likely improved his statistics for this season. Nonetheless, let’s look at those statistics at face value. His 221 strikeouts placed him third in the AL (third-most among the five Cy Young finalists), and he had the highest K/9 in baseball at 10.93. But in the context of his dominance, had he played six months, Bedard was on pace for 265 strikeouts, a truly dominant season. Teammate Kevin Millar, who is now famous for his jovial personality on popular TV show “Intentional Talk”, said of Bedard, “his curveball is the best in baseball.” With this hypothetical strikeout total approximately 10% above league leaders, imagine in today’s strikeout heavy game, a pitcher on pace for 330-340 strikeouts. That is the stuff of Erik Bedard in 2007.

Next, Camden Yards is known as a hitter’s paradise. Balls fly out of Camden Yards on a hot summer day faster than the vendors can sell a refreshing Coca-Cola, but alas there was Erik Bedard defying logic, somewhat. His ERA at 3.16 placed him fourth in AL. Extremely respectable, but given that he played at Camden Yards, it was unbelievable. Indeed, Bedard’s xFIP at 2.90 was best in baseball, by a lot. This metric essentially measures what a player’s ERA should be independent of defense and assuming league average homerun rates (eliminating a park factor). Bedard’s expected FIP of 2.90 was followed next by Felix Hernandez’s at 3.27, and even further behind lagged Cy Young winner, C.C. Sabathia at 3.40.

And finally, on a per inning basis, WHIP is a great statistic to look at. This shows walks and hits allowed per inning pitched, and Bedard was as good as any in this category. Bedard posted a 1.09 WHIP in 2007, only behind Johan Santana at 1.07. Indeed, on a per inning basis, Bedard was dominating batters. His batting average against was a .210; opponents stood no chance. Again, looking back at winner C.C. Sabathia, he was 17th in batting average against at .256. Surely hitters were not coming into box with fear in their eyes against C.C., knowing they had a chance. However, with Erik Bedard (in 2007), hitters stood no chance. Bedard should have garnered more attention for this award as he was overlooked because of the Orioles’ abysmal record and their conservatism with his pitching. Talent wise, he was the best that season.

Entering the 2008 season, the annual preseason Baseball Prospectus preview made the following comments on Bedard: “The only reason not to think of Bedard as a favorite for the 2008 Cy Young is the lack of support he’s likely to get from the Orioles. Amazingly, he’s been mentioned in trade talks; it should take a truly extraordinary package of players to get him.” However, the Orioles did not see things the same way. They saw a control-challenged pitcher with a problematic injury history who was entering his 29-year-old season, while the rest of the league saw the future Cy Young winner mentioned in Baseball Prospectus. And this is what allowed the Orioles to capitalize on one of the most lopsided trades in the history of baseball, shaping the future of their team.

On February 9, 2008, the Orioles finally made the trade. They sent Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for young major leaguers Adam Jones and George Sherrill and prospects Chris Tillman, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio. First, looking at the trade from the Orioles perspective, they were able to pull off a rare 5-for-1 trade in which they acquired a lot of talent. Tony Butler and Kam Mickolio, who were both considered top prospects for the Mariners, turned out to be duds, both fizzling out before making an impact. However, the other three players were a different story. George Sherrill was the 2008 closer for the Orioles, making an immediate impact as he was named to the 2008 All-Star game with a career high in saves. In 2009, the Orioles then traded Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for additional prospects in their rebuild.

Finally, Chris Tillman and Adam Jones provided long-term production for the Orioles, helping them make the postseason in 2012, 2014, and 2016. The first appearance ended a 15-year playoff drought for the organization. Tillman developed into the team ace who produced a 12.4 rWAR from 2012-2016, leading the pitching staff. Jones developed into the face of the Orioles’ franchise. He won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, garnered MVP consideration in multiple seasons, and produced a 31.6 rWAR over 11 seasons with the club. Off the field, he helped promote the city of Baltimore and was been a positive influence in the community, including during the Baltimore riots in 2015. For the Orioles, trading Erik Bedard ended their long playoff drought, turned the franchise around, and made a lasting, positive influence on the city of Baltimore.

For the Mariners however, the same can not be said. Bedard began the season as the 2008 Opening Day starter, upending 2007 Opening Day starter, rising 22-year-old superstar, Felix Hernandez. Bedard made 15 uninterrupted starts to begin the season, going a respectable 6-4 with a 3.67 ERA, but then was placed on the DL with shoulder stiffness. Bedard missed the remainder of the year after undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery. In 2009, the same story unfolded. He started 15 games to begin the season, going 5-3 with an even better 2.82 ERA, but suffered a major injury, a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. Bedard missed the remainder of the 2009 season and the entirety of the 2010 season after setbacks in rehab, while the aforementioned Felix Hernandez went on to finish second in Cy Young voting in 2009, and won the award in 2010.

By this time, the Mariners had a short leash on Bedard. In 2011, Bedard signed a one-year deal with the Mariners, and he once again showed flashes of his prior greatness. Despite a 4-7 record at the trade deadline, he had a 3.45 ERA. Capitalizing on Bedard’s resurgence and a rare injury-free season, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for minor leaguers Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang, a far cry from the package given up for Bedard. Overall, his stint with the Mariners did not live up its astronomical hype. As the Orioles prophetic scouting proved right, injuries continued to hamper the career of this one-time ace throughout his time with the Mariners. It’s anybody’s guess what the Mariners could have done with Adam Jones and Chris Tillman on their roster throughout this period, but there is no doubt their trade for Erik Bedard set back their franchise. It should continue to haunt Mariners fans to this day.

The final years of this unparalleled career continued the downfall which started with the Mariners. Bedard never went more than one year with a specific team, finishing 2011 with the Red Sox, then spending one season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, and Tampa Bay Rays. In fact, Erik Bedard was actually the 2012 Opening Day starter for the Pirates, so perhaps his glory days were not over yet! In a duel for the ages, Bedard went up against Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies. Halladay and the Phillies won the duel, 1-0, but aside from a lone run scored by the Phillies in the 7th, Bedard looked like his old 2007 self. Unfortunately, this game was not to be repeated, as Bedard finished with his ERA north of 5.00 for the first time in his career. This continued over the remainder of his career, as his ERA never sank below 4.59, and his rWAR from 2012-2014 was a total of 0.2. His magical curveball and touch had left him. During one more comeback attempt in 2015 with the Dodgers, Bedard made three starts at High-A ball while giving up eight earned runs in fourteen innings. That stint was his last in affiliated baseball. Bedard called it a career.

In the end, what will Erik Bedard be remembered most for? Will it be for his historic 2007 season, which could have easily resulted in a Cy Young award? Will it be for the franchise altering trade between the Mariners and the Orioles? Or will be it for that of a talented pitcher whose career was hampered and cut short by seven separate injuries? Alas, it will be for a curious career, one that brings all those emotions to baseball fans across the country. From the highs and the lows, the career of Erik Bedard left behind a fun, lasting legacy for baseball fans to look back on.

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2 replies

  1. As a Pirates fan- I remember his being awful in a Pirates uniform and he gave at least the appearance of someone who didn’t care.

  2. When he was at his best with the Orioles, he STILL looked like he didn’t care. Part was his discomfort with media interviews, since he didn’t learn English until his teens. And he had a propensity to come out of games earlier than a fan would think necessary. Beat reporters hated covering his post-game press availabilities because he either said nothing or may as well have said nothing. Not too many people in Baltimore were sad to see him go, but I think a lot of it, in retrospect, had to do with the language barrier and his distrust of the media.

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