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+|
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
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’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.