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Daniel Bard’s 2022? It was a very good year

This season, the Rockies closer returned to his 2020 form.

Welcome to the 2022 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2022. 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. 2, Daniel Bard: 3.8 rWAR

On Opening Day of the 2022 season, Daniel Bard reported to the Colorado Rockies’ clubhouse with an electric guitar. He’d decided to leave his acoustic at home.

“I can make an acoustic sound pretty good, yeah,” Bard said, gesturing to an electric guitar case hanging with his baseball gear, “but I only brought an electric this year because I’m going to force myself, so I get better.”

For Daniel Bard, 2022 was about a lot more than improving his electric guitar skills.

He was, after all, coming off a rough 2021. As a reminder, in 2020, Bard converted 100% of his save opportunities, finishing the season with an ERA of 3.65 and winning the National League’s “Comeback Player of the Year” Award. In 2021, by contrast, he converted only 71.4% of his saves, earning a 5.21 ERA. In late summer, he lost his closer sport to Carlos Estévez, and finished the season with a -0.2 rWAR. Questions lingered as to whether Bard’s 2020 was an outlier.

He knew something had to change.

“I think I just made some adjustments after last year,” Bard said. “I was kind of struggling and feeling like I my numbers didn’t match my ability, so I was a little frustrated with how that last year ended up. I made some adjustments to my approach and some pitches I was throwing, and you never know how much they’re gonna help, or if it’ll help at all and just kind of make the adjustments and hope hope hope it pans out.”

Add to that, the Rockies would need to make a decision about the 37-year-old’s contract.

Daniel Bard had a lot riding on 2022.

Not to worry. In 2022, he was back, finishing the season with a 1.79 ERA in 60.1 innings with a WHIP of 0.994. His ERA+ was 262 where league average is 100. Those facing him earned a cumulative slashline of .162/.257/.245.

TLDR: He was good.

Bard could sense the change early. “I could get a sense in spring training that the hitters were taking. They weren’t taking as good as swings on my fastball,” he said. “So I knew things were heading in the right direction and just continue to refine it and attack.”

I could try to describe the changes Bard made to his slider, but instead, just read Mario DeGenz’s analysis, which is excellent and discusses the “bridge pitch” Bard developed (and that Baseball Savant can’t seem to recognize).

And, because it’s impossible to watch too much of Daniel Bard’s slider, here it is in action:

After it became clear that 2020 Bard was back, the Rockies began working on a contract extension. At a time when Bard was widely seen as one of the Rockies’ best trading chips, two days before the trade deadline, the team announced their closer had signed a two-year contract for $19 million.

For Bard, it made sense. “The Rockies took a chance on me 2 12 years ago and probably looked crazy when they signed me,” Bard said of the contract. “But they had faith in me and they helped me figure out how to pitch again. I had my ability back, but I still had to learn how to get big-league hitters out again. The Rockies were instrumental in that.”

Bard finished the season with an impressive 34 saves. (Wade Davis still holds the franchise record with 43.)

But he knows he’s got more work to do this offseason.

“You know, there’s always there’s a plan,” he said. “There’s always something to get better at — so just refining trying to get more consistent with the things I’ve done well this year.”

But let’s get back to the music for just a minute.

Bard started the season warming up to Ryan Bingham’s “Nothin’ Holds me Down.” As he explained back in April, “I’m a big Ryan Bingham fan, and it’s one of his more upbeat songs.” (Interesting trivia note: He can play Bingham’s “Southside of Heaven” on the harmonica.)

And then, during the ninth inning of a fairly unremarkable Rockies-Nationals game, Coors Field came alive, and everything changed.

Daniel Bard had a light show and “Stranglehold,” his warm-up music from his Boston days. The Rockies defeated the Nationals, 5-2. He was absolutely back.

But did his electric guitar playing improve?

“It was good. I played a lot of electric for the first four months of the season,” Bard said. “And then when I got the two-year extension, I was like, I need to buy myself a little gift. And I missed my acoustic, so I bought that [he gestured at a nondescript acoustic guitar case a few feet away], and it’s a Taylor 710, a 1995. So it’s kind of cool. It’s an older guitar, and it doesn’t have barely a scratch on it. I think somebody bought it and sat it in their closet for 20 years. It sounds really good.”

The Rockies may not have had a very good 2022, but Daniel Bard did.

★ ★ ★

I wanted to include a link to this terrific interview that didn’t really fit into this piece. There’s a lot here.