The Red Sox had that one. John Lackey actually pitched well enough to hand the bullpen the lead. Franklin Morales did his job, Alfredo Aceves worked a scoreless seventh. Then, with the score 4-2 in favor of the Sox, Daniel Bard entered in the eighth, as he has done all season long. A role that has seen him post a 2.88 ERA — before yesterday’s game; it’s to 3.10 now — with 68 strikeouts in 65.2 innings to only 18 walks. Most of that production came from the first five months of the season, because in the month of September, Bard has completely lost control.
Bard already has five walks in the month of September, which represents 22 percent of his walks for the entire season. It’s not just the walks, however, it’s the inability to locate even within the strike-zone.
In yesterday’s game, for example, Bard was consistently missing high and to the right-handed batter’s side of the plate. After back-to-back walks to Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson to start the inning, and a throwing error on a Mark Teahen bunt, Bard started catching much more of the plate with his fastball. Unfortunately for him, “much more of the plate” meant too much of the plate, as he allowed a run scoring grounder by J.P. Arencibia and a two run single to Adam Loewen.
You can see from the three pitch f/x charts below (via BrooksBaseball.net) how Bard has been unable to locate his pitches lately, either missing off the plate or locating up and toward the middle of the strike-zone.
The lack of command and control has really hurt Bard this month. When runners get on base, especially with no one out, bad things tend to happen. It’s not as if Bard has been knocked around the yard or that his stiff isn’t generating poor contact more often than not. According to split stats from FanGraphs, Bard has only allowed a nine-percent line drive rate and a 54.5 percent groundball rate so far this month. His BABIP, however, is a robust .455. That indicates some bad luck may be at play here, but that bad luck wouldn’t hurt nearly as bad if there were fewer runners on via the walk, as they did on September seventh and yesterday.
From the video and pitch f/x I looked at, I didn’t find any difference in his mechanics or general release point, though it is worth mentioning that he tends to be somewhat inconsistent with his release point overall.
Because of his velocity, Bard can get away with working up in the zone more than most pitchers could. Lately, however, batters have been laying off of his high heat, putting him behind in the count and forcing him to work more toward the middle of the zone.
This is, of course, a very small sample size for Bard. He had a couple so-so games to start the season and hit a small bump in the road early in August. Based on what he has done over the majority of the season, he should be able to figure things out and pitch much better as the regular season comes to an end.