If Todd Helton never made it to the playoffs as a Rockie, would it have been fair for Colorado to keep him for all 17 years of his career?
Daniel Bard’s situation is different — he’s played for two MLB teams with a seven-year absence in between — but in the 14-year span since his debut, how many postseason innings does he deserve?
Short answer: far more than three.
Bard’s career postseason work has been limited to the 2009 ALDS with the Boston Red Sox. He pitched one perfect inning in a 0-5 loss and would shut down the Los Angeles Angels two days later; he inherited a bases-loaded, no-out, fifth-inning situation where he tossed two frames, allowed no baserunners of his own, and allowed just one his three inherited runners to score.
The opposing Angels went on to win 7-6, capping off a sweep following a blown save by Jonathan Papelbon.
Bard has not been to the postseason since.
Now on the heels of a shaky 2021 (65 2⁄3 IP, 5.21 ERA), Bard’s 2022 performance (25 1⁄3 IP, 2.13 ERA) is looking more like the Bard of 2010 (74 2⁄3 IP, 1.93 ERA).
2010 was how Bard responded after his one and only October.
2022 has shown he’s far more than a comeback story.
What is a closer without a postseason?
Let’s be honest: When you’re a kid with big-league backyard dreams, you’re likely visualizing October magic and not sub-.500 action in the summertime. Any big leagues is better than no big leagues, of course, but could the same aspirations be said of Bard after his first stint with the Red Sox? After his small taste of postseason dominance in 2009, what was it after his coaching time with the D-Backs that made him tick?
It could have been a goal to simply end his pitching career on a high note, which is understandable by itself.
How does that goal change after a Comeback Player of the Year award?
To this point in 2022, Bard is pitching for much more than the Rockies’ end-of-year outcome. The reality of postseason odds will reveal that, should Bard pitch in the 2022 playoffs, it is more likely to be with somebody other than the Rockies.
The harshest question: if the Rockies remain out of contention and Bard is still in a Colorado uniform come August, is it understandable if he feels even a little disappointed?
Major League Baseball currently features the lowest relief pitcher ERA in seven years:
We’re also looking at the lowest league-wide starter ERA in the past eight years:
Starting pitcher workloads are declining, given the inherent rigors of modern pitching velocity. Shorter starts will mean more work for relievers, of course — but this ‘more work’ is suddenly showing a decline in league-wide bullpen ERA, suggesting there is a greater reserve of competent relievers.
This might be explained by pitcher velocity, and that you can’t always expect a triple-digit arm (i.e. Daniel Bard) to pitch five innings as a starter every fifth day. Shorter outings are more projectable for those high-velocity arms, and because of it, players might be labeled relievers far earlier in their careers than before.
The well is not that deep, however. Daniel Bard’s 2.13 ERA currently ranks 46th in the league among qualified relievers. According to FanGraphs, his fastball has averaged 98.3 MPH this year. There are only five qualified relievers with both a better ERA and higher listed velocity. A trade piece like this can pay dividends at the deadline.
Bard also has 13 saves to this point in 2022, which is tied for sixth-most in baseball. The names ahead of him are perennial relievers — Josh Hader, Kenley Jansen and Liam Hendriks are three of them — and every closer ahead of him plays for a team with a better winning percentage than the Rockies. This would make Bard a likely trade target alongside Detroit’s Gregory Soto, also with 13 saves.
Saves are not the end-all be-all, of course; Arizona’s Joe Mantiply has a 0.39 ERA (23 1⁄3 IP) and just two saves, and it’s unfair to denounce pitchers like him just because they haven’t been given save situations. It’s also unfair to base Bard’s performance on saves alone, being that 1. the Rockies will have a tougher time creating save situations compared to a division leader, and 2. Coors.
If Bard is to be acquired at the trade deadline, it will likely be from a team closest to the top right corner of this graph:
Reliever FIP vs. Team Win Percentage - 2022
FIP is regarded as a better predictor of future performance than ERA, so this data is meant to be more projective toward what will happen, as opposed to what has happened. Any team on the left side of this graph is likely not in the market for a top reliever, while any team near the top of this graph could benefit heavily from a strong arm that can anchor late innings.
This chart paints an incomplete picture, however: it doesn’t adjust for injuries (i.e. Tampa Bay, J.P. Feyereisen) or how deep a bullpen is with Triple-A depth.
With All-Star candidate Tyler Kinley now on the injured list, the Rockies are leaning heavily on the services of Bard and Alex Colomé for bullpen stability. The second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball belongs to the Rockies, and for the same reasons Jon Gray was retained to tread through late 2021, a top reliever could be retained through late 2022 simply in the spirit of preserving a competitive late-inning product.
We are 48 days away from the 2022 trade deadline. If the current NL landscape holds, the Rockies are forced to either retain Bard’s comeback or respect it.
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Patrick Saunders published this column on the heels of Kinley’s placement on the injured list, outlining how 37-year-old Bard has continued to defy odds after the onset of his remarkable comeback. Briefly mentioned is the service of Colomé; 72 2⁄3 innings have been pitched by Bard, Colomé and Kinley combined, while the Rockies bullpen has posted a combined ERA of 4.96 in 219 2⁄3 total innings.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic says the Rockies should be sellers at the upcoming July 31 trade deadline. He labels Bard and Colomé as presumable trade candidates, also suggesting shortstop José Iglesias who is “surprisingly hitting .309” and eyeing free agency this winter.
“It’s difficult for Colorado to get free-agent pitchers to sign because they have to pitch half of their games at Coors Field, so drafting or trading for arms is the best route,” says Bowden. Colorado has only one pitcher in their top 10 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
Monday, May 30: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates
New series starting today:
Triple-A: Salt Lake Bees (LAA) at Albuquerque Isotopes (COL)
Double-A: Akron RubberDucks (CLE) at Hartford Yard Goats (COL)
High-A: Hillsboro Hops (ARI) at Spokane Indians (COL)
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) at San Jose Giants (SF)
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