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?