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Buy Low on Bard

Despite his last name, there was nothing at all poetic about Josh Bard‘s 2008 campaign. If anything, his season read like a Shakespearean tragedy. Coming off of a solid showing in 2007 that included a .285/.364/.404 line in cavernous Petco Park, Bard must have felt more blindsided than Polonius upon seeing his line crash down to a paltry .202/.279/.270 in 2008. Coming off of a season marred by poor performance and three trips to the disabled list for groin, ankle and triceps injuries, the switch-hitter was forced to take a non-guaranteed one-year deal from the Red Sox. Bard’s pact will apparently pay $1.7 million if he makes the club, with $800K in possible incentives.

A member of Boston’s squad in 2006, Bard was shipped off to San Diego along with worm-killer Cla Meredith in exchange for flutterball specialist Doug Mirabelli. Now back in the fold (and presumably keeping an arms-length away from Tim Wakefield), Bard may have the opportunity to compete for a starting job. Can he rebound, or will he just end up as the next job for the gravediggers?

In most every category, Bard’s 2008 numbers mirrored his work from previous seasons. The Texas Tech product walked 9.2% of the time and struck out fourteen percent, showing control of the strike zone that was very similar to his career averages (9.4 BB%, 15.4 K%). His line-drive rate was also a healthy 21.6%, suggesting that he was still squaring the ball up pretty often. Bard didn’t put the ball on the ground any more than he typically does either, with a 47.1 GB% (49.5% career). He didn’t show much of any power while dealing with a multitude of ailments, but the only major difference in Bard’s stat line was a laughably low .230 BABIP. Given his line drive rate, that figure will likely jump a considerable amount in 2009.

Marcel projects Bard to hit .266/.342/.395 with a wOBA of .325 in 2009. Let’s stick with that projection for the time being, roughly estimating that the shift back to the AL is offset by his moving from the run-suppressing environs of Petco to a more favorable ballpark in Fenway. Marcel has Bard taking 343 PA in ’09- let’s up that figure a bit to reflect more frequent playing time. I’ll give him a theoretical 450 PA.

In 450 PA, Bard projects to be worth -3.91 runs compared to an average hitter (.335 wOBA). He comes with a relatively poor defensive reputation, so let’s dock him -5 runs for his glove work. The positional adjustment for catchers is +12.5 runs per 150 games and the replacement level adjustment is +20 runs per 700 PA. Pro-rating both of those figures, Bard gets about an 8.5 run positional adjustment and 12.9 run replacement level adjustment.

Add all of those elements up (-3.91 offense + -5 defense +8.5 position + 12.9 replacement level), and you get about 12.5 runs above replacement, or 1.25 WAR. That level of production is worth about $6 million on the open market, using a $4.8 million/1 WAR scale. For comparison, Jason Varitek posted a nearly identical 1.3 WAR in 2008.

Josh Bard should not be your plan A on draft day, but he could be a nice value if he snags the starting job in Boston. It’s pretty easy to get stuck with an Ausmusian cipher behind the plate in deeper leagues-Bard isn’t going to light it up in any category, but he’s unlikely to be a liability, either. He won’t give you a whole lot of pop, but his solid on-base skills and control of the strike zone suggest that this Bard could get poetic justice with the Red Sox in 2009.