Daniel Bard is back with a vengeance. Over a decade after his spectacular 2010 season with the Red Sox (1.93 ERA across 74.2 IP), he’s threatening to push his ERA below 2.00 once again. His earned run average sits at a spectacular 2.05 at the time of writing this piece. He also has 16 saves, tied for 8th-best in the Major Leagues, and has only blown two opportunities to close out a game. His comeback story has been a great thing for baseball, but this is not just a fun novelty anymore; the now 37-year-old righty is one of the top relievers in the National League, and I believe he should be an All-Star when the festivities roll around. Let’s see how Bard is having arguably the best year of his career so far, what he’s changed to get to this point and why he truly deserves to be honored as one of the NL’s best in 2022.
The Two-Headed Monster
Daniel Bard has changed this season. After a poor 2021 that saw his ERA climb over 5.00, he altered his pitch mix and has come back maybe stronger than ever in 2022. He all but ditched his flat four-seam fastball, and his changeup has barely seen usage either. The change has been pretty stark:
It was never a velocity issue with Bard, and it still isn’t: his sinker is averaging 97.9 MPH this season, one of hardest in the Majors among qualifiers and the hardest he’s thrown since 2011-12, about a decade ago. His slider has also gained velocity: the 88.3 MPH he’s averaging on the breaking ball are by far a career high. The problem with Bard’s four-seamer was its extremely flat shape, which made it hittable and easy to barrel up, as well as the fact that it didn’t tunnel as well with his sweeping slider.
“Easy to barrel up” is exactly what the right-hander hasn’t been this season. While Bard’s been striking out a ton of batters (30.9% so far, which is a career high), the way he’s managed to completely shut down quality contact this season has been his best weapon. His expected weighted on-base average against (.235, 98th percentile), expected batting average against (.150, 100th percentile) and expected slugging against (.250, 99th percentile) are all the elite of the elite. How is he doing it?
This is how. Here are all batted balls against Bard’s sinker this season:
And this is the same, but against his slider:
You see it? When hitting his sinker, batters are doing so straight into the ground. His power sinker has an average launch angle against of -17º, which is insanely good. For reference, Houston’s Framber Valdez, owner of one of the world’s best bowling ball sinkers, has an average launch angle against his sinker of -7º. In fact, Bard’s sinker has been one of the five best in the Majors at preventing quality contact, period. Against his sweeping slider, the same thing is happening, but in the other direction. As you can see in the chart above, his slide piece is generating an extremely high amount of pop-ups and weakly hit flyballs, with batters unable to hit it hard and in the air with much frequency, if at all.
The picture, then, is clear. There is very little middle ground for hitters when facing Bard. On top of striking out over 30% of all batters he’s facing, batters are having little to nothing to show for it when they make contact. If you hit his sinker, it’s probably straight into the ground. If you hit his slider, you’re probably popping it up or hitting a lazy flyball. This deadly combination of traits (elite strikeout rate and elite contact supressing skills) have come together to create a monster.
Through July 4th, min. 30 IP, among NL relievers:
- Daniel Bard has the 7th-best ERA- (an adjusted version of ERA that accounts for environment), at 43. His 2.05 ERA is extremely impressive by itself, but when accounting for where he’s pitching roughly half of his games, it’s even more terrific.
- Bard leads all NL relievers in Win Probability Added, at 2.47. That’s partly because he also owns the highest Average Leverage Index in the National League, at 2.34. Bard is being put in extremely high-pressure situations, and he has delivered consistently, as relief aces do.
- His 16 saves are fifth-most in the National League. Yes, saves are arbitrary, but they still count for something, especially when playing for a mediocre team, and the guy is 16-for-18 in save opportunities.
Those are All-Star numbers, folks. The Daniel Bard Renaissance is now at its peak and if he keeps this going, the Rockies closer deserves a chance to suit up for that big game in L.A. two weeks from now.
★ ★ ★
This is a must-read if you haven’t already and want to understand why Bard’s slider is so good at generating poor contact. The Sweeper is becoming very popular across Major League Baseball, and Bard has one of the best ones out there.
Speaking of Rockies players who are playing well, C.J. Cron has had a heck of a season once again. His All-Star prospects are not good, however, as he has Mets slugger (and MLB’s RBI leader) Pete Alonso and NL MVP frontrunner Paul Goldschmidt, among others, in front of him at first base/designated hitter. It would take a truly hot stretch to give him a shot, but Cron is certainly capable of it. Whether his competition cools down and opens the door for him remains to be seen.
On The Farm
Day off for all Rockies affiliates above the Complex League. The series continue tomorrow:
- Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (37-42) at Round Rock Express (42-37)
Pitching matchup: Riley Smith (2-3, 7.65 ERA) vs Tyson Miller (2-3, 4.53 ERA)
- Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (47-29) at New Hampshire Fisher Cats (33-43)
Pitching matchup: Michael Baird (2-1, 3.43 ERA) vs Luis Quinones (0-1, 3.98 ERA)
- High-A: Tri-City Dust Devils (32-41) at Spokane Indians (38-35)
Pitching matchup: Landon Marceaux (2-5, 3.63 ERA) vs Tony Locey (4-1, 3.09 ERA)
- Low-A: San José Giants (46-30) at Fresno Grizzlies (46-30)
Pitching matchup: Seth Lonsway (7-0, 3.21 ERA) vs Case Williams (6-2, 4.50 ERA)
A comeback win for the impressive 13-7 ACL Rockies, who jumped on the Giants bullpen in the sixth inning to score the two go-ahead run to win them the game via a two-run shot from right fielder Cuba Bess. Their next game will be on July 7th, and the starters for that contest are TBD at the time of writing this piece.
★ ★ ★
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