Bard’s Release Point Sends Up Red Flags

Guest writer, Noah Woodward, examines Bard's inconsistent release point, and what it means about his future as a starter.

Daniel Bard Warms Up

Please give Noah Woodward a warm, enthusiastic welcome.  This is his first guest column for Fire Brand of the American League.

It is quickly becoming evident that release point issues are playing a big role in Daniel Bard’s inconsistency as a starter. I wanted to dig deeper in order to find out how the task of throwing 90+ pitches in a game has affected Bard’s release point.

In the plot below, I charted Bard’s 2012 release points by pitch count (with colored mean lines). It is clear that Bard has slipped away from his three-quarter arm slot that made him a successful reliever (his 2011 horizontal release was about 5” further from his ear). Bard’s 2012 release point is a concern, because while it has moved in horizontally, it has not really moved at all vertically.

This is no small concern for Bard and the Red Sox. Try to visualize the new release by holding out your arm as if you are throwing a pitch. Next, move your hand in toward your ear about a half a foot while not letting it move vertically. Now look at your elbow. The elbow has to drop to support this new release.

It then follows that Bard’s elbow has, on average, been lower on release this year than in prior years. Baseball people will tell you that this is never a good thing, and often is a preliminary cause of arm injuries. This issue is one that should be worked out regardless of whatever role Bard is to assume from here on out. The new arm slot is dangerous, and as the graph below shows, also ineffective.

Bard’s 2012 fastball moves around an inch less horizontally than it did in 2011. This change is significant, because his four-seamer moves only around 3-4” at best. A three-quarters delivery generally yields more fastball movement than overhead delivery, and Bard is regrettably confirming that belief for us this year.

Finally, I found something really interesting when I took a closer look at Bard’s pitch count-release point numbers (from the first graph). Though we don’t see his average release point shift much as his arm gets tired, the distribution of these points tells a different story.  In the table below, we see that Bard really struggles to consistently repeat a release point after 80 pitches. In fact, his variance in release increases by about 45% from when he starts the game to when he has thrown 90 pitches.

Daniel Bard: Horizontal Release Point Variance by Pitch Count

# of Pitches Thrown Release Point Variance
0-50 0.0672
51-60 0.0686
61-70 0.0770
71-80 0.0546
81-90 0.0813
91+ 0.0972

It’s easy to see how a starter would struggle to be consistent when his body is tired, but others are clearly better at this than Bard (I checked out a few). Some actually reduce variance as pitch count increases. It is clear, though, that these numbers show that Bard is just not right for the starter role. I know he had a bad outing yesterday, but I think the reasons laid out above are more powerful than the results that we have seen this year. The risk of injury, loss of fastball movement, and inconsistency of release are all offer pretty strong support in favor of a change.

It is possible that Bard knew that his arm couldn’t handle his old release in the new role, or it could be that he just felt too much pressure to experiment this season as a starter.We’ve all seen Bobby Valentine try to blow us away with his managerial ingenuity this season, but the way he has been toying with Bard really makes me feel for the guy. He really just needs to let Bard out there in the late innings with one command: “let it go.”

How hard is that Bobby?

Categories: Daniel Bard

12 Responses to “Bard’s Release Point Sends Up Red Flags” Subscribe

  1. marcos June 6, 2012 at 1:09 PM #

    Valentine shouldn't be blamed for Bard's ineffectiveness. Bard has always been mentally weak. is it too hard to notice that? Why isn't he closing? the guy is the right handed Rick Ankiel, pressure activates his Steve Blass syndrome

    • ChipBuck June 6, 2012 at 1:57 PM #

      Marcos – That might be one of the most ridiculous comments you've ever written on here. Prove to me that Bard is mentally weak. Unless you're a licensed therapist with access to Daniel Bard, you're not in a position to diagnose him as being weak.

      This has nothing to do with ability to close. The reason he was starting is because it's a far more demanding job than closing. Any dumb idiot can be a closer. Chris Perez, Jim Johnson, and Fernando Rodney are top three in the majors in saves right now. That should tell you everything you need to know. The truth is that the Red Sox wanted to maximize the value of one of their best arms. They tried to do that with Papelbon as well, but a rotation logjam combined with his desire to close pushed him back to bullpen.

      While I agree that Valentine shouldn't be blamed, comparing him to Rick Ankiel makes little sense. It's an easy, overly emotional, convenient excuse.

      • evanbrunell June 6, 2012 at 7:19 PM #

        The 2008 Evan just spit out his drink reading who are the top 3 in saves in 2012.

        • ChipBuck June 7, 2012 at 2:52 PM #

          Just goes to show how stupid "saves" are as a stat.

          • marcos June 7, 2012 at 7:12 PM #

            I used to subscribe to the idea that anybody could close games. Aveces can't close though and all those blown saves can come back to haunt the sox.

          • ChipBuck June 7, 2012 at 8:29 PM #

            Since the April 21st blow up (which had been his first appearance in 5 days btw), Aceves has 2.81 ERA, a 27/8 K/BB ratio, and is 12 for 13 in saves (25-2/3 innings). Yeah, that sounds like someone that doesn't have the mentality to be a closer…

          • marcos June 8, 2012 at 11:09 PM #

            if there's one thing Aveces has is the mentality to close. but that guy just isn't a closer period. throw all the numbers u want at me. you yourself know that guy isn't a closer. but Mr Buck is always right. so why bother arguing?

          • ChipBuck June 9, 2012 at 5:39 AM #

            Yup, you're correct. I am always right. Kidding. Aceves may not be the optimal guy to close, but he's more than capable. He's doing a really good job. Why complain?

            Personally, I think the entire concept of closers is stupid. Aceves is the best pitcher in our pen right now, so he should be pitching the highest leverage innings.

          • Danny June 9, 2012 at 9:13 PM #

            Don't throw numbers at him, Chip. He doesn't like it when you make sense.

      • marcos June 7, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

        You're right i'm not in position to diagnose him. But the walks, the balks, the HBP's is not indicative of a MLB pitcher, Not even 5th starter on a 2nd division team. Bard is simply in over his head. Another thing that really irks me about this kid is that constantly makes excuses and rarely takes ownership of his shittyness. If he doesn't want to be treated like a kid, he should've had a lower ERA with a higher K rate and fewer walks, balks, and HBP's.

  2. johnmartin June 7, 2012 at 10:48 AM #

    Is there any reason to believe that the change in release point (or his low elbow positioning) has anything to do with Bard's apparent loss of velocity?

  3. noahwoodward June 7, 2012 at 2:06 PM #

    I think it's possible that the low elbow started to give him some pain, and that pain caused him to ease up a little.

    One thing we can rule out is the belief that he wanted to take a little off his fastball to gain some movement, because we've seen the opposite.