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Daniel Bard’s storybook comeback took a sharp turn

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The reigning NL Comeback Player of the Year was no longer the Rockies closer by the end of 2021

Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 33, Daniel Bard: -0.2 rWAR

Daniel Bard converted 100% of his save opportunities in 2020, posting a 3.65 ERA.

The expectation for Bard’s 2021 performance was set high in the offseason when the Rockies offered him more money than the amount the ex-Rockie David Dahl signed for in Texas.

He converted 71.4% of his saves in 2021. His ERA jumped to a 5.21.

Colorado was betting on a then-35-year-old to get the job done as a ninth-inning guy; during the first eight days of the season, it appeared the club got what they were looking for. Bard’s first four appearances of 2021: 3 23 IP, 0 ER, 6 K.

He would later allow nine runs in his next 5 13 innings, and a pattern was established. Bard was really good for a handful of consecutive outings this year, and really bad for the next handful.

  • Good: From May 14-June 9 (12 13 IP), Bard did not allow a run.
  • Bad: From June 18-25 (3 13 IP), he allowed four.
  • Good: He allowed one run in his next 8 13 innings after that, putting together a solid June into July.
  • Bad: A dismal stretch to follow is what finally pulled Bard out of the ninth inning role. From August 16-28: 4 23 IP, 11 ER.

Carlos Estévez took Bard’s job as the closer during late summer, placing the future for Bard’s prolonged comeback in significant question.

Raw Stuff

Bard actually had a harder fastball and slider in 2021 than he did in 2020:

His spin saw a relative jump too; while a slight jump is expected with a jump in velocity, his decreased slider velocity came with a huge jump in slider spin.

(Based on his slider and sinker, we can also presume Bard wasn’t using an illegal substance last year.)

Bard’s preferred weapon for strikeouts in 2021 was his slider. It was his fastball in 2020, so the jump in spin suggests the right-hander found a better breaking ball to use this year. His results across the board weren’t as favorable, and his reshaped pitch mix suggests something may have been changed last winter.

Workload

A 60-game season was a huge benefit to Bard in 2020 as he pitched for the first time in seven years, as he didn’t have to gear up for a 162-game marathon. The 60-game mark in 2021 came about two months into this season, and Bard’s figures were far better before that point than they were after:

Daniel Bard - By Month (2021)

Months IP ERA FIP xFIP
Months IP ERA FIP xFIP
April-May 20 4.50 3.42 3.35
June-October 45 2/3 5.52 4.66 4.57

The Rockies will be forced to assess the payroll ledger this winter and decide if another one-year, seven-figure extension is worth it for both Bard and Jhoulys Chacín, a player three years younger than Bard and far more effective this season. For a rebuilding team, however, it’s tough to make room for a pair of elder statesman seeking to make a further comeback while younger players see their opportunities taken away.

Bard was able to make a seismic statement in under 25 innings last year. If there’s any juice the Rockies can squeeze out of 36-year-old Bard, it could be huge to help mold the young arms around him. If he bounces back in 2022, it will make his comeback story an even bigger tale.