Will Bard Improve in the Bullpen?

Taking a look at Bard's velocity and the best route for the starter.

photo from SittingStill.net

Daniel Bard has not fared well as a starter. It seems like he could be headed back to the bullpen in hopes of finding his form. A cursory glance at some numbers suggests this may not be a bad idea. I’m not the only one to notice a four MPH drop in fastball velocity from 2011. This number is substantial.

Using 38 pitchers that have worked out of the bullpen and as a starter since the beginning of 2011 (minimum 1000 total pitches, no more than 84% of pitches thrown in one role or the other), Bard’s FB decline is an outlier. As usual, these are based on my own pitch classifications.

The average fastball speed drop when starting is 1.1% of the pitcher’s reliever-speed. So a 100 mph heater becomes 98.9, if you have nice round numbers. Let’s take a look out the most extreme six.

Pitcher Start FB Relief FB Gap Gap+
Daniel Bard 93.7 98.0 4.4% 413
Chris Sale 92.9 96.0 3.3% 306
Andrew Miller 92.8 95.5 2.8% 259
Phil Coke 91.8 94.4 2.7% 253
James Russell 87.6 89.7 2.4% 221
Alfredo Aceves 92.2 94.0 2.0% 183
All 38 91.6 92.6 1.1%

Hey look at all the Red Sox! That’s kind of strange, ain’t it? Sale is a strange bird, in a lot of ways. He’s been varying his fastball (sinker) speed within games quite a bit and has been successful as a starter. As a Cub fan, I can assure you Russell is better off in the bullpen. Not much unlike his father.

Back to Mr. Bard. Let’s remind ourselves of his historical pitch usage levels, just a quick visual.

Daniel Bard Pitch Usage
Bard Pitch Usage

Keep that in mind and notice the speed drop for Bard is (a) evident as a starter, and (b) evident in the latter half of 2011.

Daniel Bard Pitch Speed
Bard Speed

Bard’s slider is slowing down enough to look like a curveball in some cases. As noted in the Mass Live article, his change-up speed has squashed into his fastball speed. That hadn’t happened in 2011, even when his velocity was on the way down.

I hate to say it, but he may be wearing down. He’s pitched about 75 innings a year since coming out of college, and he’s already at 55 now. I’d be beyond cautious in stretching him out further. His velocity looks to have peaked a couple years ago, and both his slider and fastballs starting moving down the speedometer last year before his new role.

Putting Bard in the bullpen sure makes sense, but expectations should be tempered. His velocity won’t recover as much as you may as expect, and if his control problems linger it won’t matter what inning or how many innings you give him. And if he really is at some short- or long-term physical stress point, things could get worse before they get better.

Categories: Daniel Bard Pitch F/x

3 Responses to “Will Bard Improve in the Bullpen?” Subscribe

  1. Bryan June 6, 2012 at 11:06 AM #

    I'm all for kicking Bard out of the rotation, but there are a few other moves that come with moving him to the bullpen, and none is common sense. First, you've got to replace him in the rotation, and if Matsuzaka isn't ready, does that mean more Aaron Cook? Andrew Miller? Yikes. Then you've got to demote a reliever and, last night's ugliness aside, the bullpen's pretty good lately. What reliever is pitching worse than Bard right now? Albers, maybe? I think Bard needs to work things out in Pawtucket, but not until Matsuzaka's ready for the big leagues.
    I'm interested to hear what others would do.

    • @harrypav June 7, 2012 at 9:45 AM #

      scary when you put it in that context. But I guess not scary enough ….

  2. Danny June 9, 2012 at 3:56 PM #

    Look, it was a nice experiment, but it really looks like we're in danger of doing Bard some serious damage right now. He needs to get back down in the minors, get back into the mindset of a reliever, and play out the rest of this season in low-leverage relief when a spot opens up. Time for a new solution at starter, if you ask me.