Daniel Bard in the Rotation: So Far, So Good

The Red Sox moving Daniel Bard to the rotation has been a hotly debated move in Red Sox Nation this spring. But after two starts, it’s clear that Boston at least had the right idea in letting Bard move from the bullpen back to the starting rotation, where he threw in college and at the outset of his pro career. Bard has had a bit of an issue with issuing free passes, but has otherwise had positive showings in his first two times through the rotation.

One of the most important questions for any pitcher is can he throw strikes? If you can’t throw strikes, you’re going to make things really difficult for yourself, no matter how much talent you have. So naturally, people are going to question that ability when you walk seven batters in a single game, as Bard did today against the Tampa Bay Rays. In each start, Bard showed a good ability to keep the ball in the zone in the early part of each game, before faltering in the middle innings.

Today against the Rays, Bard had four walks through six innings — which is not great, mind you — before walking three of the last four batters he faced in the seventh. It was clear that Bard was laboring, but Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine left him in to face Evan Longoria with the bases loaded in a tie game nonetheless (Valentine admitted this was a mistake after the game). And while Bard only walked one batter in his first start against Toronto, a quick look at his strike percentage by inning shows that he has had more trouble finding the zone as the game has moved along. In innings one through three, Bard’s strike percentage is 65.3 percent. From the fourth inning on, it is just 58.7 percent.

Now, this is two starts, and a grand total of 207 pitches, and when we break it down by innings, you come up with an even smaller sample. But so far, it looks like Bard’s control issues may be attributable to the fact that he is still building up the stamina to be a starter. After walking 4.01 batters per nine innings in 2009, Bard lowered his mark over the past two years — his BB/9 dropped to 3.62 in 2010, and was 2.96 last year — so it’s not as if he has been wild all that much recently. If we reach June or July and Bard is still having problems throwing strikes after the first few innings, then that might be more of a cause for concern, but at the moment, it is an acceptable issue.

The reason it is acceptable is because of the ridiculous stuff Bard has displayed. In the past, Bard has been a three-pitch guy — four-seam fastball, slider and changeup — and that appears to still be the case (the guys at Brooks Baseball reclassified some of the four-seamers and changeups from his first start to sinkers, so that will bear watching, but for now we’ll work off of the raw Pitch f/x logs found here and here). The slider is the most impressive of the bunch. While noting that continuous use of a slider may not be the best thing for a pitcher’s arm, Bard’s slider has been so impressive that it would be a crime for him not to throw it with the frequency he has in the first two outings.

It’s no secret that Bard has a good slider, of course. Among the 197 pitchers who tossed at least 70 innings last year, Bard’s 1.72 wSL/C mark (Pitch f/x numbers) ranked 28th overall. It’s hard to know how a pitcher’s stuff will translate when he changes roles though, so his success thus far is encouraging. This season, he has thrown 75 sliders — which accounts for 36.2 percent of his workload — and has generated swings and misses a ridiculous 20 percent of the time. For context, the league average swinging strike percentage the past three seasons has either been 8.5 or 8.6 percent, and thus far in 2012 it has been nine percent (those are Baseball Info Solutions numbers, and Bard’s data is Pitch f/x, but the differences shouldn’t be that drastic). In his first two starts, Bard’s slider literally generated more than double the swings and misses over the league average. Again, it’s early, and hitters are going to adjust, but his slider so far has been impressive.

Bard has also generated above-average swings and misses on his fastball and changeup, but his fastball today was less effective. In each outing, coincidentally, he threw 49 fastballs as classified by Pitch f/x. In his first outing, 39 of them went for strikes, with eight being swinging strikes. In today’s outing, only 28 of them went for strikes, with just four swinging strikes. Bard was well aware of this after the game, calling his fastball command “terrible.” While terrible may not be the most accurate word to describe it, there is certainly room for improvement.

Daniel Bard has started two games, and took the loss in both. For some, that will be enough to deem his conversion an immediate failure. Look past that though, and you can see that Bard has shown positives, and that the main negative may be fixable. He is generating a good rate of swings and misses on all of his pitches, but particularly on his nasty slider. He needs to work on keeping the ball in the strike zone — nobody wants to see seven-walk starts become a habit — but part of the issue may simply be that he needs to build up stamina as a starter. The jury is still out, but at this point in the young season, moving Bard to the rotation looks like the right move.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


54 Responses to “Daniel Bard in the Rotation: So Far, So Good”

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  1. Big Jgke says:

    Bard walked 7 batters, but that’s Bobby Valentine’s fault? Contextualizing a walk makes it count as less?

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    • Marcel says:

      In terms of evaluating future performance, yes. We know that his command has eroded as his pitch count has risen and. completely deserted him past 100 pitches today. As the season progresses, we can assume that his arm strength and endurance will increase which should lead to him maintaining his command late into starts. Also, I don’t think that Valentine will be dumb enough to pull a Grady Little again.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BigNachos says:

        … except he’s already pulled a couple Grady Littles already this season.

        Not to mention that in the highest leverage situation in the ballgame, he had Matt Albers and Justin Thomas (who?) warming up, which led to the second game already in which he’s used his worst reliever at the most important moment.

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      • Colin says:

        Yes making assumptions about things we want to be true often works out so well in baseball.

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      • Bill says:

        If the wildness if related to fatigue, he should become less wild in later innings as he builds his stamina. If he doesn’t, this is evidence that the initial hypothesis is wrong.

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    • glenstein says:

      I followed that game. Bard was spent after 6 2/3. He should have been removed. A competent manager would have got him out of there before 2 of those walks occurred, if not 3.

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    • Bryan says:

      The last two walks were certainly Valentine’s fault. Bard had no business being on the mound after Jennings’s single. To wit:

      http://replacementlevel.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/true-patriotism-is-not-being-a-bully/

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  2. quincy0191 says:

    Bard’s BB/9 was 2.96 last year and 3.62 in 2010. He had a 1.80 BB/9 after one start this season, and with seven walks in 6 2/3 innings today I’m betting that went up a bit. He wasn’t particularly wild, that’s true, but he wasn’t exactly Cliff Lee out there last year.

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  3. grant says:

    It may not be endurance. It may be a function of second time through the order, when batters are less likely to chase pitches they’ve become a little more familiar with. Most relievers aren’t relievers because they lack stamina, but because their stuff doesn’t hold up 2nd and 3rd times through.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. opisgod says:

    Bard’s fastball is still sitting at 93-95 MPH as a starter. If he can’t get hitters out at that velocity, then he might as well be Joel Zumaya. The only difference between effectiveness at 94 and effectiveness at 98 is that one of them requires more thought than “throw big fastball in strike zone.” Bard doesn’t strike me as the dumb type, nor does his slider’s effectiveness label him as an all-fastball pitcher. The Red Sox should have converted him last year, a complete inability to throw more than 50 pitches without fainting should be the only reason Bard should not start.

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  5. Jim Lahey says:

    I think Bard will be okay..

    But I hate bobby v. Why not franklin morales or melancon? Or just really why is bard still in the game with the bases loaded and 6 walks under his belt already? Gag. Please end this season mercifully.

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  6. kris says:

    I have a few questions:

    First, what’s the league average strike-rate per inning? I guess there’d be some variety of survivor bias, but I’d be curious nonetheless.

    Secondly, what’s your take on Bard maintaining velocity in the TB start? We can posit that he’s running on empty, but he did maintain velocity, and the previous inning was (basically) all strikes.

    I know it’s fun to speculate, but he also could’ve just had a bad inning independent of being out of gas. I didn’t watch the game, I’m just reading through the stats, so I can’t really comment on his ‘labouring.’

    As always, great read.

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    • Derek R-C says:

      He could have been having a bad inning. Either way though, Valentine should have pulled him considering he is on his 2nd MLB start.

      To me he starts off with a Walk (ok sure), than a single (ok now I pull him for someone not named Thomas). Even if you leave him in, you pull him after he walks the next guy.

      This is inexcusable. A high school coach could do a better job than Valentine, and this doesn’t even get into the whole calling out Youk thing.

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  7. Joe says:

    Bard walked batters in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and also hit a batter – the walks were just not having issues early in the game, they were pretty spread out. Even if we just toss away 3 walks in the 7th you are still talking a 6BB/9IP rate which is not a sustainable BB rate for a starter, regardless of stuff

    Maybe he will get better late in games… or maybe he will get worse as he starts pushing toward cumulative workloads he hasn’t seen in years. Maybe his command gets better when he’s hitting pitch 90+ later on this year or maybe it gets worse when he hits 100 innings and his legs and arm is not as fresh. I’m not sure why one would assume one direction over the other.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, his walk rate is bad early on, but, if his last three were fatigue related, it’s not as alarmingly bad as his box score makes it appear.

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  8. Andrew says:

    One can only imagine how glowing the writeup would have been if he had walked fewer than one batter per inning during today’s start. I don’t disagree that Bard can succeed in the rotation, but today’s start is evidence against this proposition, not for it.

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  9. everdiso says:

    2gs, 5.2ip/gs, 1.6k/bb, 1.71whip, 4.63era, 104pc/gs, 64st/gs

    yup, of all the guys in MLB that we could talk about, this is the guy that definitely deserves an entire article dedicated to how well he’s pitching so far this year.

    good call.

    -21 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kevin says:

      Paul’s a bit embarrassed, right now; but he called and wanted me to let you know, everdiso, that he’s sorry for wasting your valuable time. It won’t happen again.

      To this end, please leave a list of approved pitchers for future articles.

      +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • everdiso says:

        maybe start with the guys who haven’t walked 7 guys in one of their two starts, even if it means we don’t get to spin positives about the red sox.

        -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • dkulich44 says:

        @ everdiso:

        I’m sure Fangraphs will issue you a full refund.

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  10. Mike Scarn says:

    I think his GB% also warrants mentioning, I think that might be one of the most encouraging things about his 2 starts.

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  11. Kevin says:

    Is it just me, or is fg getting more and more polluted with ignorant, negative comments? Why bother reading? Every MLB team gets plenty of coverage here, so go back to espn’s comment sections with your east-coast bias whinings. You’ll have plenty of friends there!

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    • uh says:

      At least we have friends and are not a virgin like you Kev.

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    • pft says:

      As a Red Sox fan I note there is a bit of a Red Sox bias which annoys some.

      Bard has been OK, there is some promise there. The real question is how his arm holds out after a number of starts. Bobby V doing his best to test this.

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    • Congo Hammer says:

      Any time anything starts getting successful, you get trolls and haters, regardless of how good your intentions.

      I think the problem is currently with the commenting system that allows posts by these lowlifes to get prominence on the page.

      It should be structured more like Reddit.com, where the top voted comments are highest on the page, and negative rated comments are hidden. Even Youtube has the hiding feature.

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  12. kissfro says:

    I have Bard on my fantasy team and watched both of his starts and came away impressed. The one thing I was most surprised by was how good of a feel Bard has for pitching. He mixes his pitches well and seems to have a knack for throwing the pitch / location the hitter least expects. Also was impressed with his poise as he seemed to be able to not get rattled and pitch out of a couple of jams. I thought his first start was a lot of bad luck, a lot of the hits he gave up were seeing eye hits / bad luck. Even though his line was ugly I came away feeling satisfied that I made the right choice picking him up, and still feel the same way after his second start. The article is spot on, Bard is going to be very solid, prob have an ERA in the mid 3s, average a k an inning, decent whip (won’t hurt / won’t help), and double digit wins.

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  13. Andrew says:

    “2gs, 5.2ip/gs, 1.6k/bb, 1.71whip, 4.63era, 104pc/gs, 64st/gs

    yup, of all the guys in MLB that we could talk about, this is the guy that definitely deserves an entire article dedicated to how well he’s pitching so far this year.

    good call.”

    I know, and to add to you point the one good start he had was against the pathetic Blue Jays.

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    • RTHonJhonTurner says:

      The level of masshole homerism in this article is atounding. Why did Fangraphs decide to do this on a guy who has never had any success as a starter above A ball? Just because he can throw hard?

      Cherry-picking stats to show that Bard doesn’t suck? Clap Clap Clap!

      Well, Bobby Valentine will fix that. Just give Bard a few more starts under Bobby V.’s wonderful management and Bard will revert back to his career minor league numbers as a starter.

      Hope you like 4th place losers.

      -14 Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. everdiso says:

    Ok, I apologize to Paul Swydon for me being a dick. I’m a dick, and my comment may have been out of line. So all apologies, Paul…genuinely.

    That being said, I do find it astounding that this site continues to not only give the Red Sox inordinate amounts of coverage…..but that somehow this coverage remains almost entirely positive, despite the fact that for the last 8 months or so they objectively have deserved nothing but criticism.

    I mean fangraphs used to be where we would come to see writers poke holes in silly theories like “The 2011 Red Sox were so awesome from arbitrary end point A to arbitrary end point B that whatever happened before or after those arbitrary endpoints can safely be discarded as exceptions and not indicative of the real quality of the team”, or “The horrible start and end to the 2011 Red Sox season was entirely due to bad clubhouse chemistry and players not paying enough attention to the little things, and that a new culture change over the offseason will take care of those problems and let their true talent shine through”. Yet not only does fangraphs now seem to allow juicy anti-sabr theories like this become popular without any desire to correct them, but many writers slyly embrace them (without actually saying it in so many words). These are the kind of theories that fangraphs grew popular by debunking so aggressively in the past. What happened?

    And then somehow all offseason and preseason and early season any Sox move has been reviewed glowingly, whether it’s dumping a quality SS and “replacing” him with bench players, or patching together a number of spots in the lineup with part-time players, or going with two guys with no track record of SP success in their rotation, or demolishing their already questionable bullpen, or proclaiming the 2nd best organization in MLB despite the recent streak of onfield and offfield suck.

    Just seems if we have to put up with an inordinate amount of Sox-related stuff (which, really, is fine – they have a ton of fans and in some ways deserve more coverage), it at least should start criticizing the Sox for what has been a rather horrible last 8 months of both performance and personnel decisions.

    /rant

    but again, Paul, all apologies. I know I’m a dick. My bad.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    I find it amazing that bard is getting glowing reports, or even mediocre reports.

    1. TOR was looking dead red, took 1st pitch sliders for strikes, and because Bard doesn;t have anything other than a FB-SL, they sat on fastballs following sliders.

    There wasn’t bad BABIP luck in that game, but a deliberate approach and batters tee’ing off on fastballs.

    2. In the 2nd start he issued 7 walks. I’ve never seen so much defense of a pitcher that walked 7 batters. Since when do we remove stats in that fashion to evaluate player’s performance? I do agree that if managers took players out before they fatigued, the players would do better. But, we need to apply that same protocol to all players. My guess is everyone shows significant improvement.

    I think the point could be made that him being a little above replacement level through 2 starts is a good thing for a reliever turning into a starter. But, I don’t think we should be touting it as “successful” so to speak.

    So far, so good? IMHO, the expectations were greater than the performance level so far. I would have guessed that he’d have been a disappointment so far.

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  16. Joel says:

    Keep in mind this is the same site that, two years ago, almost completely dismissed Clay Buchholz’s questionable peripherals, BABIP luck, and unsustainable home run rate, calling 2010 a breakout year and a sign of great things to come.

    For whatever reason, this site maintains a consistent blind spot when it comes to the Red Sox.

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    • James says:

      I think the reason for this was that his peripherals predicted a rise in his K/9, as evidenced by his 9.4 Swstr %, which would put him in a range of starters with a K/9 from 7-8, which would offset a presumed raise in BABIP. This is the exact same approach they’ve taken for non-Red Sox pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson so I’m not seeing the correlation between Red Sox homerism and Fangraphs.

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    • RTHonJhonTurner says:

      You said it. Only more elegantly than I.

      So its perfectly acceptable to piss on the pathetic Blue Jays but frowned upon when one points out the blatant homerism towards the Red Sox?

      Well, let me repeat it. Go lick your chicken greased fingers and cry in your warm beer. And you heard it hear folks, 4th place for the Red Sox. Book it.

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    • Tim Wing says:

      Buchholtz was having a good season last year before he got hurt. He had started out slow but had gotten better and better after every start. If he had finished the season and gotten 30 starts theres no doubt in my mind he would have finished the season w/ an ERA somewhere between 2.90-3.20 and 14+wins.

      This year so far his first 3 starts have all been day starts, which now for his career has an ERA over 5.00 in day starts. Since 2009 when he became full-time starter, he is 25-7 with a 2.66 ERA at Night. That is a pretty good sample size. He’s going to be a good top of the rotation pitcher over the next several years, id say atleast as good as Tim Hudson has been over the years. He was on his way to being the next Jered Weaver, but ever since he changed his arm slot in 2008, his strikeouts have gone down.

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  17. Andrew says:

    Hey everdiso, say inordinate again.

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  18. Andrew says:

    “I mean fangraphs used to be where we would come to see writers poke holes in silly theories like “The 2011 Red Sox were so awesome from arbitrary end point A to arbitrary end point B that whatever happened before or after those arbitrary endpoints can safely be discarded as exceptions and not indicative of the real quality of the team”

    This is what your insanely jealous Blue-Jays fan mind interprets.

    In the real world where the rest of us live, it’s clear that most of the Fangraphs staff don’t take actual Win-Loss record as the final word on a team’s true talent/performance. The Red Sox played better than a 90 win team in 2011 TAKING INTO ACCOUNT THE ENTIRE SEASON. On top of that they had some injuries.

    By the way, when the FG staff did their predictions, how many guys even picked the Red Sox to make the playoffs? A couple? This is definitive proof that you’re just being an irrational homer. You hate the Red Sox, and anything less than someone saying they suck and are going to finish 4th to you is sucking up to them. Grow up.

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    • RTHonJhonTurner says:

      Insanely jealous how? I think its the other way around. How else do you explain the Red Sox trying to pluck John Farrell in the offseason? Well guess what, it didn’t work. Enjoy Bobby V. I hear that he’s big in Japan.

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      • Judy says:

        It’s too bad that the title of this article didn’t make it clear that it was about a member of the Red Sox so you could just avoid it.

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    • RTHonJhonTurner says:

      16-2 Texas. How do you like them apples?

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  19. vivalajeter says:

    A lot of hate for Bobby V going around. I didn’t watch the game, but it looks like he left him in there too long. Is it possible that he wanted to see how Bard handled the situation as he started to get tired and didn’t have his best stuff? If you always take out a young starter when he gets into trouble, you have no clue how he’ll respond to the situation the next time it comes up.

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    • Joebrady says:

      I understand, but there is a difference between having a guy work out of a bases loaded -0- out situation in the 4th without his best stuff, and having a guy with nothing left in the tank try to get out of it. The former is a repeatable occurrence. You might have to do that 3-4 times a year, maybe more. You seldom have to pitch in 0-0 games when you’re exhausted.

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  20. RTHonJhonTurner says:

    I can avoid lots of stuff but I will not ignore some masshole fan calling the Blue Jays pathetic. Hence my rant.

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  21. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    Yep, you guys are on to something, i come here expecting to see why the Red Sox are so bad and it seems we get an apology for their performance.

    Maybe they bought him the wrong kind of fried chicken before the game?

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  22. Justin says:

    It’s pretty clear Bard has control issues and can’t cut it in the rotation. I don’t know why people assumed he’d make a smooth transition just because he was a strong reliever. He struggled mightly in the minors as a SP and is struggling mightly in the majors.

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