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Daniel Bard has a new slider—and it’s not as good as before

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, May 4, 2021

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got—until one of your pitches changes itself?

Daniel Bard’s bWAR in 2020 was good for the seventh-best mark by a Rockies player (0.9; best among relievers). In 2021, he now ranks second-to-last among all players that have put on a Colorado uniform this year (-0.6). Bard has made 10 appearances in 2021—all one inning or less—and has allowed at least one run in five of them. His four earned runs allowed on Sunday led to his worst outing of the year.

Bard spoke after Sunday’s game, saying “I feel really good throwing the baseball. I can’t throw the ball much better than that, as far as just strictly looking at pitch execution.” His comments came immediately on the heels of a dismal outing, when it would have been far easier to just say it wasn’t working and dismiss the media altogether.

In 2021, the scouting report on Bard has thickened—and so has his pitch data. Metrics like spin rate, active spin and pitch axis weren’t readily available for public use when he first joined the league. They can now be readily accessed to pinpoint lapses between solid pitch execution and poor results.

Pinpointing the issue: Movement profiles

Bard’s fastball metrics have hardly changed. His spin rate is still immaculate (2700+), and he still works consistently in the upper 90’s.

Daniel Bard - Fastball (2020-2021)

year Pitch MPH Spin Rate (RPM) Total Movement (In.) Active Spin (%) Measured spin axis (HH:MM) Observed spin axis (HH:MM)
year Pitch MPH Spin Rate (RPM) Total Movement (In.) Active Spin (%) Measured spin axis (HH:MM) Observed spin axis (HH:MM)
2020 FB 97.1 2718 13.8 77 1:30 1:15
2021 FB 97.7 2781 14.7 76 1:30 1:15
Data courtesy of Baseball Savant

If anything, his fastball should actually be better this year. His uptick in velocity has helped yield a greater spin rate, and in turn, greater movement. The axis and spin efficiency remain the same lethal combo of a year ago.

Is there anything that is actually different?


Daniel Bard - Slider (2020-2021)

year Pitch MPH Spin Rate (RPM) Total Movement (In.) Active Spin (%) Measured spin axis (HH:MM) Observed spin axis (HH:MM)
year Pitch MPH Spin Rate (RPM) Total Movement (In.) Active Spin (%) Measured spin axis (HH:MM) Observed spin axis (HH:MM)
2020 SL 87.6 2807 6.7 37 10:00 9:00
2021 SL 86.4 2901 10.2 47 9:15 9:15

Bard has seen a 10 percent change in his slider spin efficiency, which suggests he is releasing the ball differently instead of pitching with similar ‘gyro’ action he had on his slider last year. The axis of rotation has subsequently changed, which further causes a change to the movement profile. (Note: High active spin isn’t always good—see below.)

Hitters seem to have liked it.

Daniel Bard - Opponents vs. Slider

year Pitch BAA SLG XSLG wOBA xwOBA Whiff %
year Pitch BAA SLG XSLG wOBA xwOBA Whiff %
2020 SL 0.235 0.382 0.373 0.297 0.282 32.3
2021 SL 0.250 0.500 0.409 0.329 0.326 25.0

What we do know: Bard’s new slider looks more like his fastball than his old slider. Take a look at the horizontal movement below:

Daniel Bard - FB/SL Movement

Pitch Vertical Movement (2020) Vertical Movement (2021) Horizontal Movement (2020) Horizontal Movement (2021)
Pitch Vertical Movement (2020) Vertical Movement (2021) Horizontal Movement (2020) Horizontal Movement (2021)
FB 17.6 16.7 8.2 9.2
SL 34 33.6 6.2 9.6

A two-inch difference in horizontal movement has now become a 0.4-inch difference.

In comparison: Clayton Kershaw has a 3.7-inch difference in horizontal movement this year on his fastball and slider. Jacob deGrom has a 4.3-inch difference. The diameter of a baseball is about three inches.

As a primary fastball/slider guy, it could be essential for Bard’s pitches to contradict rather than coincide. When the horizontal movement is almost identical, both pitches can land in the same bat path of opposing hitters. This might further explain how Bard has been hammered on some solid fastballs this year.

Re-shaping the slider

Sometimes it isn’t easy to re-shape a pitch during the season, especially as a reliever when every day can bring another appearance where competing means more than evaluating.

It’s a delicate process—and a hellacious one if consistency at release goes by the wayside.

For Bard to revert his slider from 47 percent spin efficiency (‘active’ spin) back to 37 percent, he will need to throw the pitch with more gyroscopic (or ‘gyro’) spin. Pure gyroscopic spin would have zero percent spin efficiency, meaning there is no topspin or sidespin on the ball. A gyroball, by definition, is quite the contrast to a standard fastball with high active spin. (The next closest thing to a gyroball is often a gyro-style slider.)

One of the most simple methods for re-shaping a pitch in such a way is to change the grip itself. It could mean a ‘turn’ of the ball in Bard’s hand or perhaps a different ‘feel’ on a seam to create more of the circular-style rotation of gyro spin. Further adjustments could call for a different hand position at pitch release, or a mechanical adjustment somewhere else along the kinetic chain. (These changes are far easier said than done.)

Such an adjustment can call for a lot of trial and error, but with slow-motion Edgertronic cameras and pitch tracking hardware throughout the professional ranks, the tools are there. There does remain a limiting factor, however: arm fatigue. Every one of Bard’s throws is valuable as the schedule jumps from 60 to 162 games.

Bard said on Sunday that his struggles have stemmed from “either sequencing, getting too predictable or tipping [pitches].” It could all be a matter of movement instead, and a matter of slider adjustments until we see the Daniel Bard of 2020.

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Welcome back, Minor League Baseball! By the end of the day, we will have three box scores to look at between Low-A, High-A and Double-A action. The Triple-A schedule will begin on Thursday.

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