Daniel Bard’s story is well-known: a promising young pitcher who battled the yips and was out of baseball for seven years before fighting for a Rockies roster spot in 2020 with a duct-taped number on his jersey. Bard would go on to win the National League Comeback Player of the Year at age 35 to the delight of Rockies fans who needed something to cheer for in a difficult year.
In 2021, Bard was inconsistent with a 5.21 ERA, despite being a bullpen workhorse for the Rockies. Still, he set a then-career high in saves and had the second-most appearances of any Rockies pitcher.
Bard rebounded with a career year in 2022. He enjoyed an All-Star worthy campaign in which he set career marks in ERA and saves over 57 appearances, even garnering an MVP vote. The Rockies signed him to a lucrative two-year, $19 million extension rather than dealing him at the trade deadline.
Bard is valuable to this team not just for his pitching, but also as a mentor and leader for other arms in the organization.
For example, Bard was a key resource for former first-round pick and top prospect Riley Pint when he returned to the Rockies organization after a brief retirement.
“Daniel has shared a couple of things that helped him come back,” Pint said. “He’s an amazing resource. I just wanted to learn how to separate baseball and life. That’s a huge part of it and that’s something he enlightened me on.”
Even journeymen like Matt Koch rely on Bard.
“Around the bullpen, around the clubhouse you can talk to those guys [like Bard] and just kind of pick their brain for how they go about their business. A lot of it is just watching and learning.”
With his combination of pitching talent and the ability to help his teammates, it was understandable that the Rockies wanted to give Bard an extension.
However, fast forward to 2023, and nothing has gone as planned.
It all started when Daniel Bard was named to Team USA for the World Baseball classic. He was excited to play for his country. However, the tournament did not go as expected. In Team USA’s quarterfinal matchup against Team Venezuela, Bard entered the game but failed to record an out. His performance culminated in hitting Houston Astros second baseman José Altuve, breaking his hand and sending him to the IL to start the 2023 season.
Bard faced severe criticism—even receiving death threats on social media—for his WBC performance, but Rockies manager Bud Black defended his closer.
“He’s pitching for his country in front of a big crowd,” Black told MLB.com’s Manny Randhawa. “He only had three or four outings with us this spring and Daniel’s got a lot of moving parts in his delivery. He was just out of whack.”
Bard’s offseason took another turn when the pitcher announced he would miss the start of the season. He was going to the 15-day injured list to deal with anxiety and was open with both the team and the fans about his mental health.
“Bard had difficulty reaching his 97-plus mph velocity,” Thomas Harding wrote at the time. “His pitching motion and his location were unsure. But, especially after talking to head athletic trainer Keith Dugger, Bard felt shrouding the issue would have created more problems.”
Bard returned to the roster on April 19th and began to pitch regularly for the Rockies. He never reclaimed his spot as the team’s closer but regularly worked late in ballgames. On the surface he was pitching well, but under the hood something didn’t seem right.
In 24 appearances from April 19th through July 22nd, Bard pitched 35 2⁄3 innings with an ERA of 2.02 and 27 strikeouts while only giving up two home runs. Opposing batters were hitting .171/.340/.282.
Note that on-base percentage, though.
Bard walked 27 batters and gave up 20 hits, frequently finding himself in trouble but being able to navigate his way out. His FIP was more demonstrative of his pitching at 4.81, showing he was not being punished for those mistakes independent of fielding. Meanwhile, the average velocity of his sinker was hovering at 95.1 MPH, down from 98 MPH the previous year. He’s also in the bottom 1% of the league for chase rate in 2023 according to Baseball Savant.
In his last few outings, things have gotten worse.
He has failed to complete a full inning in three of his last four appearances. On July 26th against the Washington Nationals, Bard struggled with command, facing just eight batters. He walked four of them and hit another while allowing a base hit. The Rockies entered that inning up 4-1 and would lose 5-4. On Wednesday against the San Diego Padres, Bard entered the game in a low-leverage situation. The Padres were already up 4-1 going into the top of the ninth inning. He made just one out, giving up four earned runs on three hits, two of which were home runs.
While Bard’s ERA is a pleasant-enough 3.79, his FIP has ballooned to 6.01, which isn’t ideal given that his FIP has already been above 5.00 for most of the season. His BB/9 so far this year is a concerning 8.3, the highest mark in his career since 2013 when he pitched just two innings for the Boston Red Sox. His 8.1 K/9 is also the lowest he’s posted in a Rockies uniform, and he currently strikes out fewer than one batter per every walk issued.
Daniel Bard - Rockies Pitching 2020-2023
Decline is understandable as a pitcher ages, even for one with less mileage on his arm like Daniel Bard. However, his pitching has taken a turn for the worse this season, and it may be time to worry. The Rockies once again passed on trading Bard at the deadline, and he is due $9.5 million next year for his age-39 season.
The question is this: Should the Rockies keep sending him out to the mound hoping he rights the ship, or should they shut him down again and try to figure out the problem? It’s a question the team will need to answer soon.
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Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post outlines the Rockies’ search for their next great first baseman, and how young guns Michael Toglia and Elehuris Montero are finally getting their playing time at the position with CJ Cron’s departure. Both players have their pros and cons, and both players need to cut down on strikeouts.
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On the Farm
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