Erik Bedard of the Houston Astros gave up no hits over 6.1 innings against the Seattle Mariners Saturday night, fanning 10 but walking five, in a game the Astros eventually lost 4-2 despite giving up just one hit.
Veteran Bedard has had an interesting career; he was a top prospect at one point and has dominated at times despite bouts with serious arm problems. Let's take a look at Bedard as today's topic for Prospect Retrospective.
Bedard is a Canadian, born in Navan, Ontario. He spoke French and was an undersized kid who didn't play organized baseball in high school. He was a literal nobody with scouts when he graduated from high school in 1997. Attending Norwalk Community College in Connecticut, he learned English, blossomed physically, and made the baseball team as a walk on. By the spring of 1999 he was a Division III junior college All-American, earning a spot in the sixth round of the draft, selected by the Baltimore Orioles.
He made his debut in the Gulf Coast League after signing, posting a 1.86 ERA with a 41/13 K/BB in 29 innings with 20 hits allowed. In 2000 he threw 111 innings for Low-A Delmarva in the South Atlantic League, posting a 3.57 ERA with a sharp 131/35 K/BB ratio and 98 hits allowed. Although scouting reports noted a tendency to nibble, he showed good velocity for a lefty at 88-91 MPH, flashed a decent breaking ball, and demonstrated a very good changeup. I gave him a Grade C+ in my 2001 book.
2001 was a good news/bad news situation. The good news: his fastball gained a notch into the low-90s, his curveball was excellent, and dominated High-A with a 2.15 ERA and a 130/26 K/BB in 96 innings for Frederick. The bad news: he missed a month with a sore shoulder, which was unfortunately a taste of things to come. I gave him a Grade B entering 2002, noting that he was "a solid across-the-board prospect with only the specter of injury standing in his way."
Bedard looked excellent in spring training and almost made the Orioles staff; he ended up making his major league debut during a roster crunch on April 17, but was sent back to Bowie shortly. There, he dominated the Eastern League with a 1.97 ERA and a 66/30 K/BB in 69 innings, allowing only 43 hits.
He was establishing himself as one of the top lefty prospects in the game, but it came crashing down on June 26th. He exceeded his mandated organization pitch count in a start that day and promptly blew out his elbow on the mound, requiring Tommy John surgery. The incident cost Bowie manager Dave Cash and pitching coach Tom Burgmeier their jobs.
Bedard spent most of 2003 rehabbing the elbow, pitching 20 innings by the end of the season, mostly in rookie ball. Reports on his recovery were positive, and I gave him a Grade B entering 2004, writing that he could get another "shot in Baltimore sooner than people expect." Indeed he did, making 26 starts for the Orioles that summer (4.59 ERA, 121/71 K/BB in 137 innings, 2.4 WAR).
This was credible considering the fact that he virtually skipped Triple-A and was coming off an injury. He improved in 2005 (4.00 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 125/57 K/BB in 142 innings, 3,4 WAR) and made steady progress in '06 (4.7 WAR) and '07 (5.1 WAR). He whiffed 221 in 182 innings in '07.
He was traded to the Mariners that winter in a controversial trade for Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio. Injuries limited him to just 15 starts in 2008 and 15 more in 2009, although he was reasonably effective in those starts, posting a 2.8 WAR. Shoulder surgery cost him all of 2010. He came back in '11 and pitched decently enough (2.1 WAR, 3.64 FIP in 24 starts in Seattle and with the Red Sox) but was obviously not the same guy he was before the shoulder went bad.
He was slightly above replacement level with the Pirates in '12 and with the Astros this year. Overall, Bedard has gone 66-71 in 207 career starts, posting a 3.90 ERA in 1175 career innings, with a 1133/480 K/BB ratio, 3.79 FIP, 110 ERA+, and 22.0 WAR.
Through age 33, Bedard's list of comparable pitchers via Sim Score: Larry McWilliams, Fred Norman, Mike Norris, Thornton Lee, Chris Capuano, Pascual Perez, Mike Bielecki, Jim Bibby, Vern Bickford, and Atlee Hammaker. I think that's a good list; all of those guys dominated at times, as Bedard has, but had injury problems or just didn't sustain their highest peak success over a long period.
While Bedard has never managed 200 innings due to injuries and resulting durability concerns, in no way should his career be considered a failure. He's been an above-average pitcher, downright excellent at times, quite an achievement for a guy who didn't play in an organized environment until he was 19. It's not his fault that the Mariners traded five players for him.