I took a look earlier this offseason at why projections and comparables for Daniel Bard should make us optimistic, but there is much more to the story. Also I needed a reason to play with the new BrooksBaseball Player Cards. Looking at Bard’s 2011 I saw two things I wanted to look into further. The first is what caused his 2011 ground ball rate to increase so much and was he doing anything in preparation of a future role as starter? Today I will be looking exclusively at the effects that led to the ground ball rate to increase.
According to Pitch F/x Bard made several changes in 2011. He began throwing a pitch classified as a sinker, which has fastball velocity, but more downward movement. This sinker was thrown 4 percent of the time and equally between left handed batters and right handed batters.
Compared to his other pitches it was in the zone more often and hitters swung at it more often. Hitters also hit the pitch fairly well with only a 10 percent whiff rate. The good news about the pitch was it worked like a sinker. Of the pitches put into play hitters had a ground ball rate of 54 percent. That’s not as good as some of the best like Justin Masterson who’s sinker results in 68 percent ground balls, but a pitch he can control and make hitters put the ball on the ground a bit more will help in the starting role.
While the sinker might help explain his ground ball change it seems his fastball saw a jump in ground balls as well. While his career ground ball rate for fastballs is 47 percent it was up to 53 percent last year. Was there a change to all of his fastballs last year and not just the new sinker?
In 2009 Daniel Bard threw a fastball that had a vertical movement of 10.4 inches, but in 2010 it was only 9.6 inches. Not a large change, but in 2011 he made a huge change to something and saw his fastball movement at 6.6. To understand this you would need to imagine if he threw to the same spot each season he would see his fastball reach the plate 4 inches lower in 2011 than in 2009.
That could be a bad thing if he could no longer throw strikes, but in 2009 and 2011 his fastball was a ball only 34 percent of his throws. This means Bard is now throwing the fastball down in the zone and consistently. Regardless of the pitch if you can stay low in the zone you will see more ground balls as a result.
Since 2009 it looks like Bard has become a bit more erratic in his release point. Above you can see his release point has gone from a variation horizontally of maybe 0.5 ft to at least a foot. This is a bit concerning in that arm slot can often be an indicator of injuries it could also be something the team has actually asked him to change. There is also the possibility this is why his control was so bad in September and the variability is really wide by the end of 2011.
It happens again in his vertical as his arm slot drops during the year and only seems to come back up during the last few appearances. It’s tough to say how much the drop in arm slot helped his fastball stay low in the zone and get better ground ball rates, but as long as it’s not a health problem I would say it was part of why he did so well getting grounders.
The Third Pitch
In my earlier piece I showed that Alexi Ogando made the switch with only two pitches and a very rarely used change. I think Bard made strides in developing his change in 2011 and after upping it’s usage to 7 percent he might use it more often in 2012.
His change up is exclusive to left handers having only thrown 3 in his career to right handers. His change breaks away from lefties and he nibbles the far corner. This results in a high rate of balls called with the pitch as he misses the plate low and away, but the pitch has a lot of ability to get poor contact and mostly ground balls.
In 2011 Bard’s change had a ground ball rate of 63 percent and in his career that stands at 67 percent. With a line drive rate of only 10 percent you can see how poorly the ball is being hit. While his change did not help increase his grounders in 2011, it will surely be a must pitch for facing lefties as a starter as he struggles a bit against lefties with a K/BB of only 2.
Bard has some questions about control and might have had some arm slot issues, but for all of that his fastball was as good as ever and helped jump his ground ball rate. If his strikeouts or walks falter in the starting role Bard will rely n his ground ball rate to keep him going and with a solid infield defense he should have no problem turning them into outs.
In part two I will take a look into changes to his pitch selection and delivery that may be beneficial as a starter. Also could some of these changes be things he started in 2011 to prepare himself for the chance to return to a role as starter?