The Problem With Daniel Bard

On Sunday, Daniel Bard faced thirteen Blue Jays — he got four outs, walked six, hit two more, and gave up a home run for good measure. Despite that being the only hit he allowed, he gave up five runs, putting a cap on the disaster that has been his experiment as a starting pitcher. Given that he’s either walked or beaned 18 percent of the batters he’s faced this year, it’s pretty easy to say that Bard’s primary issue has been command. That’s hard to argue with — after all, on May 29, he threw a pitch that “missed the center of the strike zone by more than a full Shaquille O’Neal.”

So, it’s fairly simple to say that Daniel Bard’s lack of command has betrayed him, and his inability to throw strikes with consistency has been his primary problem. Simple, but maybe not accurate. Instead, I wonder if perhaps Bard’s insanely high walk rates aren’t actually just a symptom of the real problem.

For your visual enjoyment, here is a plot of every pitcher whose average fastball velocity this year is lower than it was last year.

I bet you can pick out the little blue dot that represents Daniel Bard. He’s the lonely little icon in the lower left hand corner, hanging out all by himself with a reduction in average fastball speed of 4.2 MPH. Last year, only three pitchers in baseball — Henry Rodriguez, Aroldis Chapman, and Jordan Walden — threw harder than Bard. This year, Bard is throwing about as hard as Vin Mazzaro, Jeff Gray, and Jeremy Guthrie.

Now, with any conversion from relief to the rotation, you expect some loss of velocity, but it’s generally more in the 1-2 MPH range than the 4+ MPH range. Jeff Samardzija (-0.2 MPH), Lance Lynn (-0.6 MPH), and Neftali Feliz (-1.6 MPH) are all throwing with a little less oomph than they did in the bullpen, while only Chris Sale also experiencing a major decline in fastball speed. Of course, Sale is dominating the American League right now, showing that there’s not a perfect relationship between loss of velocity and decline in performance, but even his large decline in velocity doesn’t begin to approach the massive change that Bard has undergone.

The loss in velocity has rendered Bard’s repertoire significantly less effective even when he does manage to throw it for strikes, leading to a significant decline in his ability to get swinging strikes — last year, his SwStr% was 11.0%, but this year it’s just 7.9%. Now, you might think that this could just be a result of him constantly falling behind batters, allowing them to take pitches they woud have chased if the count was different, but Bard is actually throwing more first pitch strikes this year (57.6%) than he did a year ago (55.2%).

This isn’t to say that Bard’s command isn’t a serious problem. He’s already gotten into 27 3-0 counts this year after just getting into 10 last season, so there are certainly times when he just loses his release point and is incapable of throwing the ball anywhere near the plate. However, PITCHF/x has classifed 49.4% of his pitches this year as being in the strike zone, putting him directly in between Cole Hamels and CC Sabathia in terms of in-zone pitches. Bard’s not so wild that he simply cannot throw enough strikes — he’s just not getting the kinds of strikes he needs, and when he gets ahead in counts, he’s not able to put batters away like he did as a reliever — specifically, his performance on pitches in 1-2 counts has been dramatically worse.

1-2 counts, 2011: 56 PA, 6 H, 1 HR, 40 K, .289 OPS
1-2 counts, 2012: 29 PA, 8 H, 1 HR, 7 K, .863 OPS

When behind in the count, opposing batters have hit .253/.286/.430 against Bard this year. Last year, when they were behind in the count, they hit .110/.118/.156. Daniel Bard The Reliever would throw strike one, then punish hitters with untouchable fastballs and a power slider. Daniel Bard The Starter throws strike one, then throws a mediocre fastball or a slider that opposing batters easily recognize as a pitch they don’t need to chase. The at-bat continues and a potential walk that never would have materialized comes to fruition. Indeed, many of Bard’s walks are simply the result of at-bats lasting longer this year than they did last year.

Daniel Bard has never had very good command, and this year, it’s gotten worse. But, velocity and strike throwing are not independent, and Bard would probably feel a lot more confident pounding the zone if his fastball was 97 instead of 93. There were some legitimate reasons to try Bard as a starter, and as Samardzija, Lynn, and Sale have shown, these conversions can produce very positive results. For whatever reason, though, Bard’s velocity didn’t make the translation to the rotation, and right now, he doesn’t have the stuff to make up for his control issues.

Whether the solution is to put Bard back in the bullpen or to send him to Triple-A in order to try and work out the kinks is up to the Red Sox to decide, but at this point, it should be clear that something needs to be done. Daniel Bard The Starter is not currently a Major League pitcher, and a team trying to get back in the playoff race can’t afford to hand him the ball again.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


59 Responses to “The Problem With Daniel Bard”

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  1. Eminor3rd says:

    I’m all for trying guys out as starters, but it’s time to cut bait. Put him back in the bullpen and let him add immediate and future value.

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    • RC says:

      He was having the same control issues at the end of last year. Its got nothing to do with starting.

      he’s just not a good pitcher right now…. whether thats a mechanics issue (his release point is all over the place) or an injury issue, I don’t know.

      But its got nothing to do with starting.

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    • Jonathan says:

      No room in the bullpen right now. Even if you cut bait on one of the legitimate scrubs in there (Morales, Albers) you’ve got Mortensen, Tazawa and Melancon all pounding on the door at Pawtuckett.

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      • Steve says:

        Don’t understand this comment. Every bullpen in the bigs has “room” for Bard the reliever (assuming he’s not injured).

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      • RC says:

        “Don’t understand this comment. Every bullpen in the bigs has “room” for Bard the reliever (assuming he’s not injured).”

        The Red Sox really don’t right now. At this point, with Bards issues, They’d have to cut someone who very likely is better than him.

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      • BX says:

        And Bailey will be ready soon.

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      • Jonathan says:

        “Every bullpen in the bigs has “room” for Bard the reliever (assuming he’s not injured).”

        Not the Sox currently. They’d have to cut someone to put him back in the bullpen and that damages their depth. Putting him back there would quite literally do more harm than good right now.

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      • Steve says:

        I will concede that I haven’t been following closely enough.

        This was my point, and I guess it is outdated, is that “vintage” reliever Bard is one of the best relievers in the AL. I find it impossible to believe that any team has 7 relievers better than “good” Bard.

        You guys are saying that “good” Bard might not be back for a while, because we don’t really know what is wrong with him. and the structure of the bullpen is not currently one where they have a guy with options that can easily be shipped out while they let him work it out.

        I got it, thanks.

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      • BX says:

        A healthy Bard in the pen is better than a healthy Bailey or a healthy Melancon in the pen. (or anyone else in the pen, to be honest).

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  2. RC says:

    My opinion? He’s hurt.

    He was fine his first 3 starts, and then his mechanics, velocity, and K/B just went to hell.

    Also, as far as moving him to the bullpen, I’m not sure it would help. He was having teh same control issues at the end of last year.

    Soemthing is broken here.

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    • Jonathan says:

      I share this belief. He had some serious control issues when he first came up to the bigs and he worked them out. He’s too smart of a pitcher to be missing this badly with that much of a velocity drop.

      A week ago, I was thinking he had a case of Buchholz-like mental issues, but now he’s looking a lot more like Lackey. Considering how badly he imploded last September, I’m really leaning there’s a physical problem at this point.

      If I’m the Boston front office, I DL him, run a full battery of tests and if nothing shows up, rehab him a couple starts in Pawtuckett to see if he can put the ball back in the strikezone. If it gets close to the ASB and he hasn’t put it together in Pawtuckett, it’s back to the bullpen sadly.

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    • Mark says:

      His first start of the season he went 5 innings and allowed 5 runs.
      His second start he walked 7 and struck out 7 in 6 2/3.
      His third start was 2/3 of an inning, although I don’t know if there was a rain delay since he wasn’t that terrible. He walked a batter though.

      The only start he wasn’t terrible in was #4 vs the White Sox. So I’m not really sure I’d argue that he was even good in his first 3 starts as you suggest.

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      • RC says:

        “His third start was 2/3 of an inning”

        That wasn’t a start. It was a relief appearance.

        I’m convinced that its part of the problem.

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      • RC says:

        The first start he went 5 innings, struck out 6, and walked 1. Bad results, good process.

        The 3rd start, he went 7 innings, struck out 6, and walked 1.

        Those are both very good starts. Other than that, its been a shitstorm.

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      • chris.octavius says:

        His third appearance was in relief against the Twins–it wasn’t a start.

        Also, I’m surprised you’re using ER to assess how good/bad he was in his first start. By other measures he actually WAS good (lots of ground balls, 6K/1BB in 5 innings, BABIP was >.400), but he also got TOR to chase an unsustainable number of balls outside of the zone, which they mostly missed. He hasn’t come close to replicating those O-Swing and O-Contact numbers in his subsequent starts.

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      • Mark says:

        My apologies, I went by appearances not GS.

        I watched the first game against Toronto, and while he had a good K:BB he was getting hit around pretty hard. Just because he had a good K:BB doesn’t make it a good game. Over a 200 inning sample, yeah, I’ll trust K:BB/FIP/whatever over the ERA. But if we’re looking at individual games, you can’t call it a good game simply because it’s the one time he had a good K:BB.

        He allowed 5 runs in 5 innings. That’s a bad game.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        I’m with Mark on this one. He went 5 innings and gave up 5 runs. That’s not fine, whether he walked 1 batter, 0 batters, or 12 batters. Acting like it was a good start just because of K/BB is pretty silly.

        It reminds me of rotoworld. A guy can get crushed, and their analysis would be “He gave up 9 runs in 3 innings. But he did strike out 7 while only issuing 1 walk, so he should be fine in his next outing”.

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      • chris.octavius says:

        Not JUST K/BB. Look at some other peripherals from that game (GB/LD/FB, SwStr%), and it shows that he was good. Go actually watch the game again–watch how the runs scored. Or don’t. I think he was good; others don’t.

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      • RC says:

        He had like a .700 BABIP on ground balls the first game (.230 is league average).

        Thats bad luck (or bad defense)

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      • Eric M. Van says:

        Bard was overpowering in his first start, posting a Sw% higher than any of Verlander’s last 30 starts and yet often inducing weak contact early in the count (hence the relatively low K total). The Blue Jays hit five ground balls with runners on, none hit hard; one was a swinging bunt hit and the other four went through holes. That accounted for three runs, and the bullpen allowed two inherited runners. With mildly good BABIP luck instead of some of the worst I’ve ever seen, that’s an 8 2 0 0 1 6 line with 2 or 3 GDP.

        It’s amazing that people can still watch baseball games without having learned to judge the authority of the ball *as it comes off the bat*, rather than waiting to see where it goes, to decide how hard it was hit. Because our brains have a tremendous bias towards ascribing cause and eliminating luck. Anyone who thinks Bard was hit at all hard in that game was almost literally hallucinating.

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  3. Diane says:

    “So, it’s fairly simple to say that Daniel Bard’s lack of command has betrayed him.”

    ========================

    Actually … his command has betrayed him … not the lack of it.

    (sorry)

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  4. Dan Z says:

    Lower velocity, worse control, whats not to like? Bard just didnt seem like a good transition to the rotation, he was a good set up guy, but hardly what I would call lights out. Generally youd like to see a relief pitcher more effective than Bard before trying him as a starter, a guy like Sale comes to mind whos got nasty stuff and was more effective with it as a reliever.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Did you seriously just act as if Bard was anything but an elite reliever last year? He had a blowup in September, but prior to that he was one of the better relievers in baseball to the point he was a more useful component to Boston’s bullpen than the guy who shipped out for a big, fat multiyear deal with the Phillies.

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      • Will says:

        “he was a more useful component to Boston’s bullpen than the guy who shipped out for a big, fat multiyear deal with the Phillies.”

        Say what?

        Bard 2011: 2.96 FIP
        Papelbon 2011: 1.53 FIP

        That’s a pretty huge difference (Bard 1.8 WAR vs Pap’s 3.0 WAR, despite Papelbon pitching 13% fewer innings).

        Bard was by no means bad last year, but don’t go around saying he was better than Papelbon. He wasn’t. Not even close.

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      • RC says:

        Bard pretty much lost it in September last year (and has continued doing pretty much exactly what he was doing in september… sam mechanical issues, etc).

        Bard was carrying a sub 3 FIP last year.

        Not that it means anything, because FIP is significantly less predictive than ERA in hitter’s parks, and Bard/Papelbon pitch about 2/3 of their games in hitters parks.

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  5. RC says:

    Daniel Bard’s last 9 appearances last year:

    9G, 8.2IP, 9H, 12ER, 9BB, 8K, 12.46ERA, .815 OPS against.

    THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH STARTING.

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    • Ian R. says:

      Sample size? Yes, he had a terrible 8.2 inning stretch at the end of last year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he suddenly forgot how to pitch. Sometimes guys just have a handful of bad outings in a row.

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      • RC says:

        No, but him losing his release point at the same time, and then continuing to perform that way the next year, shows its either that he forgot how to pitch, or hes got an injury thats causing him to be unable to reproduce his mechanics consistently.

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  6. Sam says:

    I’m going with the “he’s hurt” theory. This just doesn’t look good.

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  7. 1.) Bard has had a lot of trouble with his release point this year. In addition, he has pitched from the stretch with no one on during some games, and then during other games he has pitched from the windup with runners on the back end of the bases (3rd, 2nd and 3rd, or bases loaded). He has even switched after a visit from the pitching coach so clearly this is some degree of “let’s just go from the stretch, Daniel” happening in-game.

    2.) I tweeted this out a week and a half ago, but Bard’s velocity has trended downward in a big way since the beginning of the season: http://sox.balloflightning.com/images/bardvelocity_may2012.png. This doesn’t include his last few starts, but they have been in the 92ish mph range.

    Both of these scream mechanical issues or injury. Something above and beyond a normal transition from the bullpen to the starting role.

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    • BigNachos says:

      Yeah, his loss of velocity in recent games is even more than the 4.2 MPH in that nice graph. He’s lost all that despite throwing 95-96 in starts in early April.

      It’s shocking much velocity he’s lost. Here’s to hoping he’s not turning into the next Scott Kazmir.

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  8. Josh says:

    This has nothing to do with this post, but you have (to my knowledge) no place to make requests or suggestions for posts. I’d enjoy reading a post titled “Clayton Kershaw, what happened to the strikeouts?” he’s looking sort of pedrstrian, and no one is talking about it. I assume it’s being masked by the dodgers winning. He hasn’t looked himself all year. Getting blasted by the Astros, walking guys and not K’ing nearly as often, 7.7 down from 9.6 last year. Like to see some analysis on what’s going on.

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    • Josh says:

      His BABIP is .248 and strand rate good at 79%. FIP almost a run higher than his ERA. Only thing I see is a higher HR/FB%. Maybe he’s just pitching to contact more? Hes getting much more grounded this year I notice.

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      • Grant says:

        I agree there should be a section for this if there isn’t. I’d be curious about what the deal is with Ben Zobrist. Until very recently he was still OPSing over .800 with a .200 ish BA due to his insane walk rate. 36 walks to 38 strikeouts and batting .206 just seems strange…

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  9. NotNeifi says:

    You spoony Bard!

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  10. Sam says:

    He just got sent down to AAA, so looks like Boston is thinking mechanics issues right now.

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  11. Misfit says:

    His numbers as a major league starter aren’t all that much different from his numbers as a minor league one. Converting him to a starter was worth a shot, clearly Boston thought his mechanics had improved enough out of the ‘pen that he could transition them to the rotation, but it hasn’t worked. It makes sense to option him to Pawtucket because right now he can’t be trotted out there to start a game when he has done little to show he belongs. They can try to iron out his delivery as a starter in Triple A, or move him to the ‘pen and let him get re-adjusted to life as a reliever before bringing him back.

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    • RC says:

      His numbers as a minor league starter aren’t really relevant.

      He got Drafted and the Red Sox said “Hey, we’re going to change your mechanics and turn you into a starter”.

      He was terrible, so they moved him to relief. And he was terrible.

      And then they said “Hey, pitch how you used to.” And then he was elite.

      It wasn’t the move to relief, it was the move back to his college (natural) mechanics.

      His issue right now is a mechanics one. His release points are all over the place and he can’t repeat his delivery. Its got nothing to do with starting, and everything to do with him just being a shitty pitcher (or a hurt pitcher ) right now.

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      • Steve says:

        Wasn’t he a starter in college? I don’t think the Sox tried to make him into a starter initially, right? Not trying to nitpick, i just can’t really remember.

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      • Misfit says:

        He battled his command as a starter in the minors, and has done so as a starter in MLB. I think that’s relevant. It was my understanding the Red Sox moved him to relief because he couldn’t repeat his delivery consistently as a starter and thus couldn’t find the strike zone. The organization thought there was a chance he was over this ailment and moved him to the rotation but the results have been the same. I don’t fault the Red Sox for trying, but there’s little reason to think this experiment should continue.

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      • Colin says:

        At least, that’s what you hope it is, since you are really just speculating and are obviously biased into a position you believe is most beneficial to the team you support.

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      • RC says:

        “It was my understanding the Red Sox moved him to relief because he couldn’t repeat his delivery consistently as a starter and thus couldn’t find the strike zone.”

        The sox moved him to relief because he couldn’t repeat (the new delivery that they were trying to train him to) consistently as a starter.

        They moved him to relief, AND IT DIDN”T WORK. The changes happened when they let him go back to his college mechanics.

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  12. Steve_in_MA says:

    The comparison to Lackey is well founded. Bard has control issues because he is an upright pitcher who must throw down hill to be effective. His release point is not repeatable over multiple innings. His “tilt” and velocity, over a short number of innings was devastating and sustainable, but the idea that he could do so over a starter’s innings was not well founded. It is mechanical in nature, not injury, and it is something that Bard merely managed around as a set-up guy. Hopefully, the trip to Pawtucket will convince Bard that he is not capable of being a quality starter, and they will rework him back into the power arm, set-up guy he should be.

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  13. Jim Lahey says:

    Seems like a bit of confidence issues to go along with shitty mechanics. He’s scared to attack guys with his fastball. I guess if he’s hurt he doesn’t want to stress his shoulder/elbow whatever by throwing harder.

    Watching him pitch to the Blue Jays… no balls to throw a fastball.. just throwing a frisbee slider.. ugh…

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  14. Lee says:

    This might not be the best place to ask, but I’m intrigued by the fact that the shape of the velocity loss graph appears somewhat logarithmic. Can anyone explain this?

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    • Mr. Jones says:

      I don’t think this is anything significant, as the x “variable” on the graph that the velocity-loss y variable would depend on is just a rank. I would venture to say that the logarithmic look of the graph would be fairly normal in cases where the x-axis is just rank.

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  15. everdiso says:

    Ah red sox fans….”our guys can never be bad, they must be injured!”….just put him on the phantom dl that the other not bad guys get put on.

    if we want to talk about sample sizes, bard’s career 3.25fip & xfip in fewer than 200ip as a reliever is neither an overly large nor overly impressive sample itself.

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    • NS says:

      You are such a hack. The post is about a massive drop in velocity. The comments aren’t saying “he has sucked, so he must be injured”. They’re saying “he has sucked and has lost a ton of velocity, so he must be injured”.

      And you know what. You’re just a hack.

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      • everdiso says:

        :(

        you big meanie!

        good relievers fall apart all the time. they lose velocity all the time. good starters fall apart all the time. they lose velocity all the time. My Blue Jays have their own stories too. Brett Cecil lost 2mph on his fastball, and now a promising young SP is mediocre in AA, and he didn’t even switch from the bullpen, and nobody is suggesting that his problems are injury related. Sergio Santos has a better fastball and slider than Bard, and a similar track record in the bullpen, but nobody is suggesting he be made an SP because he has top-of-the-rotation upside.

        Next time one of your players underperforms your expectations, try out this crazy explanation that might have some truth in it…….”this player is not as good as I thought he was”.

        just try it.

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  16. Scott says:

    This is probably Bobby Valentine’s fault somehow. I’m not joking.

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  17. Jon L. says:

    I’m sure this is an ignorant question, but are Shaquille O’Neals a widely accepted measure of pitch accuracy within the SABRmetric community?

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