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The mystery of Daniel Bard’s fastball

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, August 18, 2021

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Daniel Bard throws hard. Very hard, in fact. Both his four-seamer and sinker average just about 98 MPH (97.6 to be exact), and he can reach back for triple digits when he needs to do it. And on top of that, his spin on those pitches ranks in the 100th percentile, with his four-seamer getting a ridiculous 2742 RPM and the sinker not far behind at 2602. That spin hasn’t dropped after the substance ban, either: Bard had a recent outing in which he averaged over 2800 RPM on the heater. So, the results of the pitch should be awesome, right?

Well... no. Let’s talk about Daniel Bard’s four-seamer, because yes his sinker gets hit, but every sinker does. His four-seam-fastball, however? Batters are hitting .384/.489/.603 against it, which is bad. How bad? Well, there have been 237 pitchers who’ve thrown at least 300 four-seamers this year, and Daniel Bard’s has the fourth worst wOBA against at .467. Only Sam Hentges, Bruce Zimmerman and Kyle Hendricks have been worse, but the hardest throwing of the three is Hentges, who averages 94 MPH. Zimmerman sits at 92 and Hendricks is well known for being one of the softest tossers in MLB today, rarely hitting 90 MPH. Daniel Bard doesn’t have that issue, so what gives?

Bard’s fastball is pretty straight, for starters. Despite its crazy spin, his four-seamer gets 4.1 less inches of rise than the average MLB heater, in the ballpark of Jon Gray, Germán Márquez, Antonio Senzatela, Johan Oviedo, and Garrett Richards. That’s a lot of Rockies on the list, which makes sense, because Coors reduces pitch movement. What doesn’t make sense is that Bard’s fastball has elite spin, unlike his teammates. Oviedo’s fastball has middling spin, so he’s not helpful to understand Bard’s issues. No, the key here is Garrett Richards.

Richards sits in the mid 90s, and his fastball averages 2489 RPM, good for the 92nd percentile across MLB. However, his fastball is straight as an arrow, with 6.7 less inches of rise than average, dead last in the Majors. The reason? Spin efficiency!

Baseball Savant

What you’re looking at is the direction of the spin Garrett Richards puts on his pitches. The longer the line that comes out of the “clock”, the more spin is imparted in that particular direction. Notice how his four-seamer has significant spin from roughly 11:30 all the way to 2? On a four-seam-fastball, you’d want that spin to be as efficient and isolated to one “hour” as possible. Case in point, Sean Doolittle. Pay attention to just the four-seamer:

Notice the difference? Doolittle actually averages significantly less spin, with his 2259 RPM being right about average, but his spin is extraordinarily efficient, 97% according to Savant, whereas Garrett Richards has an awful 50% spin efficiency, so even though he spins the baseball more than Doolittle, the Reds reliever spins it way better, and gets far more movement as a result (3.5 inches above average, which is one of the best figures in baseball). Knowing all of this, here’s Daniel Bard’s spin axis. Again, we’re looking at the red here:

It’s not as bad as Richards, but it’s a far cry from Doolittle. Savant has Bard at 75% in terms of spin efficiency, meaning there’s some movement he’s missing on because even though he’s spinning the ball a ton, he’s not spinning it efficiently, and I think this plays a big part in Bard’s fastball getting destroyed, wildness aside.

How do you fix this? No clue! I’m not a pitching coach, after all. But I do think this is an interesting bit of information that could somewhat explain the 36-year-old’s struggles. Bard’s slider had some issues early on this season, as covered by Justin Wick in this piece, but he seems to have fixed it. Now, it’s the fastball’s turn.

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Colorado Rockies shuffle roster, rotation for end of Padres series | Rox Pile

Chi Chi González back from the COVID-19 list, Alan Trejo up, Austin Gomber on paternity leave. Congrats to Gomber!

Stock up, stock down: Tracking hitters from the upcoming star-studded MLB free-agent class | The Athletic ($)

The Athletic claims Story’s stock is down, which might be fair, but I think it’s more steady than anything. He’s looked much better in the past couple of weeks. Where does he rank in the upcoming shortstop class?

On The Farm

A pretty convincing loss for the Isotopes against the Skeeters. Starter Dereck Rodríguez was tagged with the loss (5.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0 HR) and the Albuquerque bats got shut down, striking out 14 times and managing just five hits across nine innings. The Isotopes split the series with Sugar Land and fell to 41-48 on the season. They’ll have a day off today before going to Las Vegas to meet the Aviators.

Oh boy. The Yard Goats have been enduring a miserable season and this ballgame was no different. Matt Dennis got stomped by New Hampshire (3.0 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR), and the bullpen didn’t do much better as a whole. On top of that, the Yard Goats had just four hits and a pair of walks, struck out 14 times, went 0-for-5 with RISP, and made two errors. An ugly game in an ugly season that saw Hartford drop the series opener against the Fisher Cats, with their season record now at a dismal 29-61.

The Grizzlies continue their excellent season with a shutout win in the series opener against Visalia. Starter Tony Locey set the tone with five scoreless innings (5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 0 HR), and the bullpen followed that up with four combined innings of one-hit shutout ball. The usually potent Fresno offense was held relatively in check, but the pitching was the story in this one. The Grizzlies, now 61-30, have opened up a five-game lead over the San José Giants in the Low-A West’s North Division with just about a month left of action.

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