By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
Okay, I will admit that I wanted to write with joy about Jacoby and Dustin this morning, but Daniel Bard has become the latest Red Sox elephant in the room that is impossible to ignore. For those of you who read Nation STATion regularly, you know that from the start of the season I have felt that the Sox starters were this teams weakest link. I have not wavered in that. I see this team in the postseason, but their chances for success are reliant upon a combination of the Sox bats and the bullpen compensating for the starters.
Having said all that, having Daniel Bard in a slump is serious business. There is still a fortnight to get him back into sync, but the growing sense of urgency has to be felt, not just among the faithful of the Nation, but in the clubhouse as well.
From May 27 to July 31, Daniel Bard was damn near perfect. In 25 appearances, covering 26.2 innings, he held the opposition to a .125 batting average. He faced 96 batters, walking six and striking out 25. His fastball averaged 97.6 mph.
He struggled in his first two appearances in August, pitching one and a third innings allowing four runs on four hits, walking one, striking out one. His fastball averaged 98.2 mph.
The rest of August, Bard was back, baby! From August 7 to August 31, Bard appeared in eight games, threw 9.2 innings allowing just two hits. Batters hit just .065 against him as he struck out 13 and while walking just one. His fastball averaged 97.6 mph.
But for the second month in a row, turning the page on the calendar seems to have freaked Bard out. September has been a mess. He has been scored upon in four of his five appearances. He is 0-3 and has a 17.36 ERA in 4.2 innings. He has allowed 10 runs, nine earned and batters have hit him at a .316 pace. His fastball has averaged 96.2 mph.
I have included these fastballs numbers to show you that he hasnt lost a significant amount of speed; he has simply lost his way. As Bard said yesterday, Im struggling with timing with my delivery, Bard said. I can feel it on every pitch. Feels a little different. Ive been through it before. I think the effects of it are just magnified by how big these games are. Sometimes you go out there and your mechanics are a little off and they swing at a couple of pitches and youre able to get through it. Unfortunately they really havent been swinging and missing.
Of the 92 pitches he has thrown this month, batters have swung at 38 and missed on only eight. Theyve only swung and missed on three of the 64 fastballs hes thrown this month. Part of the reason, is that most of his pitches arent really even close to the strike zone. This month hes thrown 39 pitches in the strike zone and 53 out of the strike zone. And when I say hes not been close, I mean that only four of his pitches have been on the black (the edge of home plate), and on only one pitch has Bard hit the corner.
This current slump is much worse than any other that Bard has ever experienced as a major leaguer. Hes been the key 8th inning guy for the Sox, and the prototypical 8th inning reliever for all of baseball, over the past two seasons.
Lets compare 2010 and 2011, month by month, and you can see he is in uncharted territory:
410 three walks and 18 strikeouts in 14.2 innings, ERA: 3.07, WHIP: 0.750
411 three walks and 12 strikeouts in 12.1 innings, ERA: 3.65, WHIP: 1.135
510 six walks and 11 strikeouts in 11.1 innings, ERA: 0.79, WHIP: 1.147
511 four walks and 13 strikeouts in 13.1 innings, ERA: 3.38, WHIP: 0.825
610 three walks and 13 strikeouts in 13.2 innings, ERA: 1.98, WHIP: 0.732
611 three walks and 12 strikeouts in 13.0 innings, ERA: 0.00, WHIP: 0.538
710 four walks and nine strikeouts in 9.1 innings, ERA: 0.96, WHIP: 0.857
711 three walks and 12 strikeouts in 13.0 innings, ERA: 0.00, WHIP: 0.811
810 six walks and 11 strikeouts in 12.1 innings, ERA: 1.46, WHIP: 1.054
811 two walks and 14 strikeouts in 10.0 innings, ERA: 3.27, WHIP: 0.727
910 eight walks and 14 strikeouts in 13.1 innings, ERA: 2.70, WHIP: 1.500
911 five walks and five strikeouts in 4.2 innings, ERA: 17.36, WHIP: 2.357
Is Bard tired? Im sure he is, but everyone in the game is tired and dinged up by the time September rolls around. Bard has thrown 66.2 innings in 64 appearances, but thats 22nd in the majors in innings pitched for relievers. Look at the Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, hes thrown 72.2 innings in 74 games and he has 44 saves and so far this month in seven innings and seven games he has walked four, struck out 13 and has 1.143 WHIP.
This is different than fatigue for Bard and way more serious for the Red Sox. He looks totally out-of-sync on the mound and his mechanics are out of whack. Even when he fielded a bunt yesterday, he sidearmed it and threw wide.
It must have been chilly in hell yesterday because John Lackey pitched half-decently and left with the lead. On the rare occasions when that happens, if the Sox are to make any headway in the postseason, these are the games the Sox need to win. The Sox are now 74-4 when leading at the start of the 8th inning. They cant afford to be any worse than that and Bard and Papelbon are the keys to that success.
I dont think that Bard is hurt, I think he is lost and unless he, Tek and pitching coach Curt Young can find him a GPS, Im afraid the Sox will be too.
To see heat maps of Bards performance referred to in this column, check out my article on BaseballAnalytics.org, which has been a data source for this column.