Former Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard is NL Comeback Player of the Year

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 27: Daniel Bard #51 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Houston Astros during the game on April 27, 2013 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 27: Daniel Bard #51 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Houston Astros during the game on April 27, 2013 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) /

The long road back is complete for former Red Sox Daniel Bard

The Comeback Player of the Year is one award players would care not to win since it is usually associated with a devastating injury. This year the American League winner was catcher Salvador Perez who missed the 2019 season after six straight years of being an All-Star. The reason was Tommy John surgery and Perez returned in 2020 to hit .333 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI in just 37 games. The National League winner is a former Boston Red Sox player who returned after seven seasons of failure and subsequent retirement – Daniel Bard.

With Bard, the issue was not an injury but an almost fatal case of Steve Blass disease. There is no known cure as the injury is one that is signified by the most fatal of baseball pitcher morbidity – wildness. Blass had no idea where the ball was headed and resulted in a 12.6 BB/9 in his last MLB season.

Bard was once a high-ranked Boston prospect with a fastball that touched on 100 MPH, a slider in the high 70s, plus a cutter and circle change tossed into the toolbox. Bard was from Texas, had a large Roger Clemens like frame, and was a work in progress over that one nasty issue – control. The Red Sox selected Bard in round one (2007) and the adventure started.

In 2009, Bard was at Pawtucket (AAA) and was the closer. The package was being put together and I saw Bard in a few games against Triple-A hitters who were overmatched. Bard had demonstrated the necessary control with a 2.8 BB/9 and that heater contributed to a 16.3 K/9. Bard was simply in the wrong league and was hustled up I-95 to Boston in mid-May.

Bard finished the season 2-2 and the punch out total was 11.5 K/9. Bard gathered in one save but also folded on three other opportunities, but the possible closer of the future was being tuned to replace Jonathan Papelbon. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were building a bullpen with depth for 2010.

The 2010 season showed Bard to be everything predicted as he led the ‘pen in appearances with 73 and innings pitched with 74.2, while topping the staff with a 1.93 ERA. Still, the issue was Bard’s ability to close with seven blown saves in ten tries.

The 2011 season showed some red flags with a 2-9 record and a continuation of blown saves, but in 73 innings, Bard’s control was still not a significant worry at 3.0 BB/9.

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In 2012, Bard melted like a snowman in the Sahara with a 6.5 BB/9 and a 5.8 K/9. Bard’s fastball lost its luster and the slider no longer had a bite – Bard became predictable and hittable. He was soon back in Triple-A and eventually sent to Portland (AA) in 2013 and then giving his (no pun intended) walking Papers.

You don’t give up easily on a 100 MPH or a number one pick and organization after organization took the chance of resuscitating Bard’s career. The common thread is they all failed. Statistically, Bard was dangerous with a string of wild pitches, hit batters, and walks. He was no longer pitching but aiming and that was it. Curtains after one appearance for a Mets Rookie League team.

Bard tentatively retired and was hired by the Diamondbacks as a player mentor, but there was an itch that had to be scratched and Bard was not done. Like Jim Morris of “The Rookie” fame, Bard at 35-years-old brought his right arm to the scouts for a personal display The Rockies were impressed and Bard inked a minor league deal.

On July 25, Bard was recalled and that started the comeback of all comebacks. A baseball Phoenix as Bard pitched in 23 games and had six saves in six attempts. At one time in the bushes, Bard had a 54 BB/9 and now it was 3.6 with a 9.9 K/9. The fastball was back (97.1) and the curve and slider became a steady compliment.

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What the future holds is the great unknown but Bard is now into arbitration and is positioning himself to have some long-term security as long as 2020 was not an anomaly. As far as closing apparently years of adversity have had a positive impact on Bard. Closing will be a snap after what he went through.