Ever wonder why pitchers are so meticulous about their habits or mechanics? It is because at any moment, a small incident can turn into a mountain of failures. Any slight movement in the wrong direction can lead to improper delivery, injury, loss of confidence, and even loss of a promising career.
That was the case of Daniel Bard, former Boston Red Sox setup man in the bullpen for five seasons, until injury and doubt cast him aside.
The 29-year-old, Houston native was drafted by the Red Sox in 2006 in the first round, and debuted in 2009. Much was expected of Bard, as he became the choice every eighth inning to keep the game safe for Jonathan Papelbon to pick up the save in the ninth. Bard essentially threw only three types of pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, and a changeup. His fastball was clocked at 97.9 mph in 2010, and it was assumed that he was the heir apparent to the closer position.
Then, Bard became a starter in 2012.
It was a dark year for Boston, and Bard’s performances were no different. The Red Sox needed starting pitching and looked within to find it, even though Bard’s grooming suggested nothing but bullpen status. Unless a future starter learns new pitches quickly, throwing at the same level as his other ones, having three standard pitches is the worst thing a starter can have. It makes him become predictable after the opposing lineup cycles through their batting order. A starter needs more variety to be successful, as it is more of a marathon than a sprint.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported his interview with the pitcher, yesterday, remarking that Bard’s luck on the mound in the starting position became horrific to watch. It became a problem for the Red Sox as well, “which never really improved through 2012, 2013 (mostly in the [Chicago] Cubs’ system), and 2014, when his limited outings in the [Texas] Rangers’ farm system were almost sad — 18 batters faced, seven hit by pitches and nine walks.” Bard’s path took many turns, as the shift in his role shifted him right out of a couple cities:
"“Bard calls it a ‘perfect storm’ of events that worked against him, but he mainly cites his shoulder, for which he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in January 2014.” (Cafardo, Boston Globe)"
Even with the magnification of his situation, playing as a starter for one of the most historic franchises in the world, Bard still threw 252 strikeouts in just over 257 innings, while only walking 121 batters. However, in 2011, Bard threw 74 strikeouts to 24 walks in his reliever role, earning a 3.08 ratio in only 73 innings. Between the injury and the new position, he was simply not himself. Bard just could not throw strikes like he could out of the pen.
In 2015, Bard said, “I feel now as good as I’ve felt since before 2012, maybe before 2011 … I’m throwing as well as I have since then. I haven’t seen a radar gun, so I don’t know if I’m back to what I was, but just the way it’s coming out of my hand, I’m really encouraged by what I feel” (Cafardo, Boston Globe). That confidence could be a great sign for Bard or it could be desperation to get back into the game he loves. Nobody will really know until he is evaluated. The trick is to get a team interested in him, again.
The Red Sox should be one of those teams.
Bard exceeded his rookie limitation status in 2009, meaning the Red Sox saw a player whom could handle the pressure out of the bullpen, at least enough to keep him out of the minor leagues. No team would now see Bard as a starter, but judging by his numbers, he was never meant to be a starter, anyways. Bard was a solid reliever, when healthy and confident. A new contract would be understood to be a small one, in order to prove himself on the mound, again.
If he is anything like he once was, do not the Red Sox feel that they have to take a look at him, considering their projected bullpen in 2015? Besides Koji Uehara (age 40), the Red Sox have no legitimate closer or anyone in the bullpen whom has more strikeouts than innings pitched. Many of them are either journeymen or young prospects yet to prove themselves. Anthony Varvaro is the closest to a possible setup man, but his 50 strikeouts in 54 games came with the Atlanta Braves of the National League, suggesting an adjustment period needed for now being in the American-League style of play.
Between the surgery and previous play, the only other thing working against a return for Bard in Boston is the fact that many of the relievers are right-handed, just like him. Can he still throw 97 mph, now that he is healthy? It is doubtful, but until he gets evaluated, Boston should look to see if Bard is close to old form. Not that they have much to lose, if they do. Either way, Red Sox fans should be cheering for their former son, as the organization brought him into the spotlight and could have been partially responsible for his quick departure from it.
**Pitch types and statistics were used from fangraphs.com