Daniel Bard 2011 projection:
Daniel Bard throws hard — he had the best average fastball velocity, 97.9 MPH, of any reliever in 2010 — and has a plus slider that generated a swing and miss almost 17 percent of the time last season. His 1.93 ERA looks extremely impressive, though sabermetric measures like FIP (3.37) and tERA (3.28) paint a somewhat different picture.
The two aspects in question from Bard’s 2010 season are his notably less impressive numbers versus left-handed hitters and the fact that his command/control seemed to slip in the season’s second half.
Against left-handed hitters in 2010, Bard posted a 1.53 K/BB ratio. He only struck out 6.58 per nine and walked 4.31 per nine, compared to a 12.1 K/9 and 2.83 BB/9 against right-handed hitters. Both the movement of his pitches and a 3/4 release point make it easier on lefties. His 2009 splits show similar problems with control against lefties, but more strikeout potential (small 97 batters faced sample size). This is something Bard will have to improve upon going forward, but he certainly has the upside in strikeout ability to overcome the issue.
From July and on last season, Bard seemed to lose some of the control and command he had flashed early on. His numbers show an increase in walk rate every month from July through the end of the season. He walked eight batters in 13.1 September/October innings. Given that inconsistency and a track record that reflects inconsistent control at times, there is risk involved in Bard’s walk rate projection. As is the case with his issues versus lefties, Bard has enough strikeout potential to overcome some control problems. If he were to combine the strikeout potential with better command/control, he could turn into an elite reliever.
The bottom line is that a lot can change from year-to-year with relievers. Bard has top-notch strikeout ability, which gives his more upside that most bullpen arms in the league. While the potential is there for him to reach elite reliever status, he’ll have to work on a couple aspects of his game first. The steps he takes or does not take in 2011 at age 25/26 will tell us a lot about what the Sox can expect from their future closer.