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Projecting Daniel Bard’s 2021

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, February 16, 2021

How exactly do you project the future of a Comeback Player of the Year, much less a 35-year-old that was out of the league for seven years?

It’s hard to even compare Daniel Bard’s comeback to anybody else, so any projection model can be in uncharted territory when evaluating the reborn reliever. He shattered expectations in 2020, taking over Colorado’s closer duties after having his jersey number taped on during Summer Camp. Now that Bard has ‘established’ himself again and collected a solid paycheck, the expectations have risen—but the future outlook remains complicated.

A common method of player projection is a classic “regression to the mean” analysis, a practice that emphasizes a return to average when projecting future performance. FanGraphs defines it as “the concept that any given sample of data from a larger population (think April stats) may not be perfectly in line with the underlying average (think true talent/career stats).” We can’t exactly project a comparable regression to Bard’s stats from seven-plus years ago, so for the sake of extreme simplification, let’s take the midpoint between Bard’s 2020 ERA (3.65) and the 2020 league average (4.44). If an equal regression to the midpoint is used, one may expect Bard to post a 4.05 ERA this year.

The projections on FanGraphs expect Bard to further regress; they have five projections listed on his player page and they range his 2021 ERA between 4.32 and 5.96.

It isn’t fair to evaluate regression on ERA alone, but even his five FIP projections on FanGraphs for this year (between 4.29 and 5.73) are higher than the midpoint between Bard’s 2020 FIP and league average (4.05).

Perhaps a projection in his first 60 games will be different than the remainder of the 2021 season and we just don’t know the unknowns beyond that. Bard has thrown just 24 23 MLB innings in the past seven years, so it may be tough for him to hold up during a full season. Bard only allowed three runs in September 2020 (9.2 IP, a 2.93 ERA), so he certainly didn’t slow down at the end of the shortened season. In a normal year, however, he would have about three months to go.

Perhaps 2021 will actually be—easier? If we assume Bard keeps up his 2020 pace, he can only get more comfortable with higher-leverage work. Having established himself as a centerpiece of an otherwise tumultuous bullpen, Bard’s comeback story reasons him a respected figure for teammates and spectators alike. It is presumable for Bud Black to keep Bard in the closer role moving forward, given that he hasn’t done much to lose the job. (If Bard wavers, Mychal Givens or Yency Almonte could be next in line.)

With so much variance and so little data, Bard’s 2021 projection is a wide, canyon-like margin of error in which we don’t really know what to expect. Colorado has tasted their fair share of reliever inconsistencies in previous years, so it isn’t just Bard that has been tough to predict. He showed well in his early years with the Red Sox (pre-2012), but we are left to wonder if that consistent span in his mid-20’s can bear a resemblance to his mid-30’s.

We must remember that the Rockies are paying Bard more money than the non-tendered David Dahl will make in Texas this year. Bard’s actual contract (one-year, $2.925 million) was far more expensive than what some predicted ($1.2-2.2 million), so it appears the Rockies are projecting far more out of him than other reputable outlets.

His baseball career is still alive—and much of the Rockies’ bullpen fate is in his hands.

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