Erik Bedard And The Houston Astros: What Can Fans Expect?

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

No one has carried more of an injury-prone label lately than Erik Bedard. Is that accurate and have his injuries sapped him of his potential to be effective?

Injuries crop up at random times for baseball players. Well, maybe not random, as all that stretching and unnatural throwing motion tends to tear down the tissues holding our fragile bodies together pretty easily. But, the fact remains that pitchers get injured, it's just a matter of when.

For Erik Bedard, that seemed to happen after he was traded to the Seattle Mariners. Bedard suffered through a number of rough seasons in Seattle before being jettisoned and wafting through baseball until he landed in Houston's camp this spring, waiting on a spot for the rotation.

Bedard had a breakout season in 2007, throwing 182 innings with a 3.16 ERA and a 2.90 xFIP in 182 innings with 221 strikeouts and only 57 walks. That's a walk rate of 2.82 and a career-high strikeout rate of 10.93.

But, that's when the injuries started. Here's a list of all Bedard's injuries since 2007, thanks to Kyle Boddy's injury database.

ate On Date Off # Days Injury Body Part Injury Type
March 26th, 2010 October 4th, 2010 192 Recovery from Surgery Shoulder 60-Day
July 26th, 2009 October 5th, 2009 71 Surgery Shoulder 60-Day
June 8th, 2009 July 7th, 2009 29 Inflammation Shoulder 15-Day
July 5th, 2008 September 29th, 2008 86 Surgery Shoulder 60-Day
April 9th, 2008 April 26th, 2008 17 Inflammation Hip 15-Day
August 27th, 2007 October 1st, 2007 35 Strain Trunk 60-Day

Shoulder, shoulder, shoulder. From 2008 through 2010, Bedard suffered through a number of shoulder issues that pretty much scuttled three entire seasons. In 2011, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox, but a knee injury kept flaring up on him and he ended up pitching just 129 innings between Seattle and the BoSox.

In 2012, Bedard joined the Pittsburgh Pirates, but dealt with back spasms during the season. He never went on the DL for it, though, and faded badly down the stretch before getting released by the Pirates.

So, what do the Astros have in Bedard? Do they have a suitable rotation mate for some of the younger guys, or an injured former star who is hanging on to the bottom rung of major league baseball, your 2013 Houston Astros? Judging by the progression of injuries, and the fact that his shoulder hasn't bothered him (at least in a DL sense) since 2010, we can assume that his arm should be as fine as a 34-year old pitcher's arm can be.

Those back problems and creaky knees, though? That could be an issue. When we talk about guys being "injury prone," the real thing to look for are chronic issues. Does a guy have bad feet like Bill Walton? Does he have a back issue that crops up all the time? Are his knees going? For Bedard, his arm appears recovered from the trouble he saw with the Mariners, but the others could limit his innings this season.

We've seen his results-based statistics analyzed here, pretty thoroughly, in fact. But, to show you why I'm confident in saying his arm isn't the problem, let's look at some PItch F/X numbers on Bedard.

Let's start in the 2007 season, when he was mostly healthy until that oblique strain scuttled the end of his season. In that year with the Orioles, Bedard averaged 91.6 MPH on his fastball, 89.7 on his cutter, 77.5 on his curve and 81.5 on his change.

In 2012 with the Pirates, Bedard averaged 89.4 MPH with the fastball, 87.7 with the cutter, 75.8 with the curve and 76.4 with the change. He's losing velocity across the board, but that's normal as a pitcher ages. With a lefty like Bedard, speed isn't an overriding concern, but it is troubling to lose two MPH from his peak to now on that fastball. That's a big dip when a guy is trying to miss bats.

But, if Bedard tired in 2012, did his velocity drop? In April, Bedard's velocity sat at 89.0 on his four-seamer and at 88.5 on his two-seamer. In August, the four-seamer was at 88.9 and his two-seamer was at 89.0, according to Texas Leaguers.

Thus, we can see part of the problem with the fastball velocity data on FanGraphs. Bedard appears to be using his two-seamer more, which could be a slower pitch and still be effective. That two-seamer is also goign to leave him more vulnerable to ground balls and BABiP-related swings in his effectiveness.

He has seen a drop, but it doesn't appear to be due to the injury. It's just age, and he's learning to pitch around his reduction in stuff. His peripherals were all solid last season, except when you look at his batted ball data. Batters were making more contact in the zone and swinging more often out of it. Bedard left a career-low percentage of his pitches out of the zone, meaning he's trying to be more of a crafty lefty.

His swinging strike rate is about the same for the past two seasons, meaning he didn't see a dramatic fall in effectiveness since fully recovering. He's just not the same pitcher he used to be. Could he put up a 4.00-4.50 ERA for Houston and 125-150 innings? That's certainly a possibility. If he does that for half a season, maybe 60-70 innings before breaking down, he might even buy Jarred Cosart enough time in the minors before he gets slotted into the rotation.

So, what are we left with when we look at Bedard? His nagging injuries to his back and knees may be concerning, but his drop in velocity isn't, since he seems to be relying more on a two-seam fastball. He's not going to be an ace, but he could be a nice piece to buy some time for young guys to develop. Don't bet on him pitching 180 innings again, but there's a decent chance he'll be effective. For the price, that's all the Astros can ask for from a minor league deal.

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