Q&A: Daniel Bard: Data-Influenced Conversion

Daniel Bard is moving into the Red Sox rotation this summer, and according to the stat-savvy flamethrower, data supports the decision. Bard went 2-9, 3.33 as a set-up man last year, but those aren’t the numbers he looked at when he began exploring a new role. The Boston right-hander explained his thought-process prior to Monday’s game in Fort Myers.

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Daniel Bard: “I’ve always kind of watched the starting pitchers who have success in the big leagues. I watch them on a daily basis, throughout the year, and think, ‘This guy is pretty good; what is he doing that I can’t do?’ That’s what kind of started this whole thing.

“From there I took a little deeper look at the numbers I’ve put up over the past three years. While they’re spread out over a three-year period, they total roughly 200 innings and kind of give a gauge of what is possible over a full season. That’s the way I saw it.

“I looked at more of the secondary stuff, like my batting-average-against [.176], my ground-ball rate [52.7] and my strikeouts-to-walks ratio [3.08]. If I can get close to those numbers as a starter — I know it’s not all going to translate directly — there’s no reason I can’t be successful. My gut instinct is that I can start in this league and digging a little deeper the numbers back me up. They give me more conviction that I can make this transition.

“A two-pitch mix probably isn’t going to translate to the same numbers, so I’ll need to continue to develop my changeup and use a two-seamer to get more ground balls. I’ll be happy getting ground-ball outs and not necessarily as many strikeouts, because a lot of good pitchers keep their pitch counts down.

“My velocity will probably go down some, but if I can sit 94-95 and hit 97-98 when I need it, or throw it 92 with some sink, those are basically all different pitches. Hopefully, over time, I’ll be able to add and subtract from my fastball at will. Anything that helps you throw a hitter’s timing off a split second is going to help.

“The differential on my changeup [velocity] should go down with my fastball. If my fastball goes down three or four mph, my changeup should as well. If not, it will need a little bit of work, although Josh [Beckett] has a great changeup and he throws his 88 to 90, at times. His fastball is 93-94 and his [changeup] is effective, which proves that you can have less separation if it has a little movement and is well-located. But if I can get mine in the 86-88 range, it should be really effective.

“I’m confident that I can make the transition. Like I said, I looked at what puts starters in a good position to be successful, things like minimizing the amount of runners on base — your WHIP — and the data backs up my gut instinct. If I can translate my numbers to starting, I’ll be successful.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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SiddFinch
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SiddFinch
4 years 2 months ago

Not the most sound rationale on Daniel’s part, but it says his head is in the right place. At first, I was worried at his “look at the last 3 years, which totals about 200 innings” reasoning, but later on in the article he fesses up that he knows he needs to further develop a third or fourth pitch.

As a BoSox fan, I seriously hope he succeeds. I’ve had enough of the high expectations over the last few years with Matsuzaka and Lackey, and Buchholz getting hurt. We need the rotation that we field on opening day to produce as expected and stay healthy!

Kevin
Member
4 years 2 months ago

David – maybe you should have told him that WHIP is largely based on his BABIP which has no predictive value. I’m glad he’s thinkging about statistics but it looks like he’s looking at the wrong ones. Focusing on getting his WHIP down probably won’t help him much.

And I always hate when a pitcher says that he wants to trade strikeouts for groundballs. I wish pitchers would understand that a strikeout is almost always the best result of an at bat (except for double plays).

Jake
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Jake
4 years 2 months ago

I think you’re understanding him backwards on both accounts here. He is absolutely correct in saying that successful pitchers minimize the amount of runners on base. WHIP is a result-based statistic that tells you what has occurred. He’s not saying he’s going to be successful because he’s had a low WHIP the last couple of years, he’s saying he will be successful if he continues that trend.

And as far as trading strikeouts for groundouts, he’s talking about being efficient. As a late inning reliever you can go out there and try to strike everyone out because you’re only out there for one inning at a time. As a starting pitcher you have to have the mentality to maximize your appearances, which means you need to sacrifice a little bit of your stuff to go deeper into games. If you get people to consistantly hit the ball on the ground within the first couple pitches of an at bat, you go deeper into the game.

On an at bat by at bat basis, every pitcher will tell you strikeouts are better. But given the choice to get someone out with one pitch or with three pitches, starters need to be able to accept the former over the latter to benefit their teams over the course of a game and a season.

For his career Bard has averaged 3.87 pitches per plate appearance and 4.08 plate appearances per inning. If you put him on a nice round 100 pitch limit and his numbers translate directly, that gets you about 6 1/3 innings per start, which is pretty good. But if he can cut that to 3.7 pitches per plate appearance, he’ll average an extra 1/3 of an inning per start. Over the course of a season, that’s a difference that can add up from just a small improvement in efficiency.

I would assume I don’t need to show how strikeouts raise your pitch count, but just for kicks I will. Bard throws 65% strikes, so roughly 1.5 balls for every 3 strikes. That’s 4.5 pitches for every strikeout, on average, assuming, of course, there are no 2-strike foul balls.

That being said, with his numbers deteriorating accross the board he’s very likely to struggle to be anywhere close to 4.08 plate appearances per inning, which means he’ll struggle to complete 6 innings per start. Running a guy out there that you don’t expect to complete 6 innings is not going to do your team any favors. I’m sure Bard would like to strike MORE guys out, but he’s simply being realistic when he says he’s going to need to trade strikeouts for groundouts. That’s the only way he’s going to be a useful starter.

Boo yah Grandma!
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Boo yah Grandma!
4 years 2 months ago

Kevinn Ebert got pwned!

Dave
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Dave
4 years 2 months ago

Except to strike a guy out you need to throw 3 times as many pitches as you do to get a groundball out.

Kampfer
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Kampfer
4 years 2 months ago

Although a GO can possibly cost less pitches, the difference is probably less than 2 pithces

Jonathan
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Jonathan
4 years 2 months ago

@Kampfer,

Even so, that’s a big difference when spread across multiple at bats. A difference of only one less pitch per at bat on average could well buy you an entire extra inning (one pitch across eighteen batters gives you eighteen pitches, good for a full inning).

Stan
Guest
Stan
4 years 2 months ago

Did you push your glasses up your nose as you typed this? Look, I know you’re right on both counts but it would make absolutely no sense for David to correct him during the interview. For someone who’s clearly starting out on learning the stats behind the game, pointing out his mistakes would just make him more defensive (and more wrong). This is a comment on how I think stats people should deal with the “civilian” population. Nobody likes someone who corrects them on the details instead of encouraging them as they try to learn more.

Nadingo
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Nadingo
4 years 2 months ago

I think he’s actually wrong on both counts. As Jake pointed out, the context of this interview is what it takes to transition from relieving to starting. Obviously, the biggest concern is how to make sure you improve your efficiency while maintaining the quality of your results. Keeping WHIP low (i.e., minimizing baserunners) is key because the fewer baserunners you allow, the fewer pitches you have to throw to get through 6+ innings. It doesn’t matter that WHIP has no predictive value — if he focuses on minimizing baserunners then the WHIP will likely show that.

And trading strikeouts for groundouts is absolutely what you want to do when transitioning from 1-2 innings to 6+ innings. As long as he doesn’t have the Tigers’ infield behind him, it makes sense to rely on his fielders more and allow himself to get out of innings faster.

Steve Balboni
Member
4 years 2 months ago

“David – maybe you should have told him “

I think David was interviewing him, not coaching him up.

Kevin
Member
4 years 2 months ago

Nice spelling Boo yah. I guess 4 words were too difficult.

I completely agree that pitchers can’t go all out when they move to the rotation. Obviously they need to save some energy by not going all out on every pitch when they have to pitch multiple innings.

To your points. WHIP is worthless to look at. He’ll keep his WHIP down by getting more strikeouts, and not getting groundballs that have a higher BABIP than flyballs. So if he has a nice WHIP at the end of the year, great. But it won’t be because he upped his groundball rate at the expense of his strikeout rate. He already has a 52% groundball rate which would be great if he can sustain it in the rotation.

Being efficient is great, but who’s to say that he’d get a groundball on the first pitch of an at bat as opposed to the 5th or 6th pitch. At that point, he’s thrown just as many pitches as it would’ve taken to get a strikeout. You can’t really belive that all groundballs occur on the first pitch and all strikeouts occur on the 3rd pitch. You’re average pitches per at bat numbers and average strikes per at bat numbers are worthless because they will change now that he’s in the rotation. It will take a different number of pitches to get a guy out is he’s throwing 94-95 instead of 97-98.

Lastly, he’s not a 20 year old just called up from AA so I highly doubt he’s going to be on a strict 100 pitch limit. He’ll be 27 this summer.

SKob
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

So Kevin, when you look at WHIPs of 1.34 vs 1.16 you don’t instinctively think the latter is the better pitcher? Are you high? Bard was summarizing anyway, using WHIP to explain a measure of showing how many guys are allowed to get on base. How is that wrong?

And your rationale for why a groundball might not save pitches over strikeouts is ridiculous! You are taking the less common situation and making an argument from it. Seriously? First pitch groundballs and 3 pitch strikeouts? Who would really think that’s the case? Do you really have no idea how much faster groundball pitchers work than strikeout pitchers?

Bard is explaining how he can be a better starter and I agree with his reasoning. He has evaluated the inevitable situation of losing 2-3 MPH off his fastball and what he can do to counter that.

Why are you being so critical? Yankee fan? Just a general douchebag?

Boo yah Grandma!
Guest
Boo yah Grandma!
4 years 2 months ago

Once again, KevinNNN Ebert got pwned!!

Boo yah Grandma!
Guest
Boo yah Grandma!
4 years 2 months ago
Jake
Guest
Jake
4 years 2 months ago

WHIP is not worthless to look at. There is a pretty strong correlation between the number of batters you allow to reach base and the number of runs that score. In fact, on average, it’s right around 30% of runners who reach base score. So if your WHIP is really low, you do a better job at run prevention. I think the issue here is that we’re looking at this from the fans/stats-junkie perspective, whereas he’s looking it from a practical application standpoint.

His job is to produce outs and not allow people on base. So for him, WHIP is something that is very tangible and is a great stat to look at to grade his performance. Again, this is a result based tool, not a predictive one. As fans, we tend to look at what we can expect to happen, so WHIP is less valuable to us.

That all being said, everyone is in agreement here that his result-based WHIP will more than likely go up, and it’s probably going to be because he allows more balls in play. That’s just common sense. You have a valid point that the BABIP for flyballs is lower than for groundballs, however, that little fact is completely negated by the fact that SLGBIP (if you will) is extremely higher for flyballs than it is for groundballs. So I would much rather see him increase attempt to increase his GB% over his FB% given that we can expect his K% to decline.

I also never assumed that all groundouts, flyouts, popouts, foulouts or lineouts happen on the first pitch. But the fact is they CAN happen in one pitch. Strikeouts MUST take THREE pitches. Referencing the numbers I provided before, if Bard averages 3.87 for all plate appearances, but roughly 4.5 for only plate appearances which result in a strikeout then the average number of pitches per plate appearance which do not result in a strikeout is lower than 3.87. So how exactly would that not be more efficient?

You have a very valid point about those numbers changing going forward, because we don’t know how Bard’s stuff will play in the starting rotation. What I can tell you is that the Major League Average for pitches per plate appearance, since the data has been available, is 3.82, so he was pretty close. I currently don’t have a number for starters and relievers, so I don’t know what would be a reasonable expectation for him at this point. It could drop simply because he doesn’t throw harder. It could raise because he has to nibble more. We simply won’t know until he gets there.

As to your counterargument about a pitch limit: it was an example to illustrate what could reasonably be expected based upon his previous performance. I’m not saying he’s going to be on a 100 pitch limit. In fact, I started that argument with a pretty big “if”. If you put him on that limit AND if you translate his numbers directly. However, he has not pitched a full season in the Majors as a starter. I think it’s a little short-sighted to not expect him to be on a pitch limit and an innings limit. It’s better to err on the side of caution when trying to get someone from 15-30 pitches per appearance and 70-80 innings a season to 100-120 pitches per appearance and 180-200 innings a season, because, let’s be honest, that is extremely difficult to do.

Jason Roberts
Member
4 years 2 months ago

Nice work David!

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan
4 years 2 months ago

“You can’t really belive that all groundballs occur on the first pitch and all strikeouts occur on the 3rd pitch.”

You can, however, infer the minimum required. At minimum, a ground ball out is going to take one pitch. As far as I can recall, though, I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen a strikeout on less than three pitches.

Joel Anair
Guest
Joel Anair
4 years 2 months ago

David,

Pay no mind to the hyper-critical comments. This was a really good piece. Short, sharp interview with a kid who showed himself to have a pretty solid head on his shoulders. What a kick it is to hear MLBers talk about stats!

Kevin,

Settle down, dude. You may pwn Bard with a slide rule, but his 197 MLB IP and 100mph fastball make him a slightly more interesting baseball conversation than you; he can get away with talking about less-advanced stats where you maybe couldn’t.

Jesse
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

pwned again lol

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
4 years 2 months ago

Prediction: Bard will have Boston’s second highest pitcher WAR this season.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan
4 years 2 months ago

Bold prediction. I think he’ll be a more than viable fourth starter, but considering Beckett and Lester’s typical numbers, that’s either a really lofty expectation or a really pessimistic one. Either way, it doesn’t seem realistic. Two of Boston’s top three would basically have to completely bomb out or Bard would have to have an extremely unlikely breakout for a guy with only three MLB pitches to have him outwarring them. a WAR of 4 would be huge from Bard and the only Boston starter that would top is Buchholz if everyone performs to typical expectations.

tz
Guest
tz
4 years 2 months ago

Bard is the type of pitcher (Verlander being the top example) who can afford to “pitch to contact” with his better pitches, to save his arm to extend himself. I love Voros/FIP/BABIP as a starting philosophy, but some pitchers have the stuff to generate more weakly hit balls, so a bit less BABIP (and SLABIP too).

Ironically, it’s the Keith Foulke type pitcher who needs to focus on developing strikeout ability. If his 86mph fastball stays out over the plate, without the strikeout-inducing changeup to keep hitters honest, he would generate a higher than normal BABIP. It was always lots of fun to see Foulke’s K/IP rate when he was relieving, and could just rear back and “fire” 85 mph fastballs past guys sitting on the slower sinker/slider/change junk.

OKGOJAYS85
Guest
OKGOJAYS85
4 years 2 months ago

Bard was so successful as a reliever because he would come in and throw heat (60-80% FB), which was a huge change of pace from the previous pitcher. Now batters will get to watch him pitch to many more batters, get more exposure to his “stuff”, and his 2 pitches are going to be smacked around pretty good IMHO (change-up doesn’t count…yet). Also, as with most converted relievers his innings limit might also be a concern come September. I wish him the best by I think this has a potential to be a failed experiment for the Red Sox

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan
4 years 2 months ago

He actually has three pitches, fastball, changeup and slider. He’s been working in his changeup this spring and if he can develop it into a viable MLB pitch, he’ll have enough to make it as the number four starter the Sox are asking him to be.

He also has a cutter that he basically hasn’t touched since 2009.

RedsoxProspects
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Bard has a pretty weak change up and to expect marked improvement in this time frame is unrealistic. I”d focus more on the control of his 2 seamer which could make or break him as a starter potentially. He needs some movement on his fastball and some change in speed options to supplement his great 4 seamer and slider. Sometimes his ability to throw strikes vanishes for a while which can present big problems as a starter. Rather than be taken out of the game early, as a reliever, it could really explode on him in some games as they try to get 5 innings out of him. He may be susceptible to big innings sometimes and struggle to get 5-6 innings in regularly. He’s high risk, high reward just like Sara Palin and we all know how that worked out in the long run. He’s possibly the key to the Redsox season this year.

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