In the game thread today (TOR @ BOS, Sep 14, 2011), there was understandably a hell of a lot of anger and stress over losing yet another game with Daniel Bard on the mound. This is understandable since for Bard to be as suck as he has appeared lately suddenly makes our bullpen look vulnerable.
In the playoffs, you can go far if you have two hot starters and three hot bullpen arms. That's because you can give the game in the middle to your mediocre arms but use those 5 guys to completely 'own' 4 games out of a series.
With Aceves, Bard & Papelbon, we looked pretty set in the relief department. For Bard to look so ... awful ... suddenly, is like a gut punch. Suddenly our bullpen strength has a big gaping hole in it. Do we now need to extend Aceves into the 8th to get to Papelbon?
The concerns go beyond this year. If Bard suddenly, permanently sucks - does that raise the leverage / price of signing Papelbon? Who replaces Bard if he's suddenly, truly yet another formerly-good reliever destined for the discard pile?
Many have been screaming and stressing and wondering if, among other possible causes, Bard is injured. Legitimate question - after all we went through last year and with our already long list of injured players how can you not wonder and worry about that.
If it is not injury, then what? Has Bard suddenly just turned into a bad pitcher? Are his mechanics afoul? Is there any hope he can correct this?
I decided to break down what I just witnessed in this game. Was it really a case of Bard pitching bad? Was he squeezed by Angel Hernandez - whom I personally believe is one of the worst, most inconsistent umpires on the planet? Let's look after the jump.
First of all, I don't think Bard's hurt. His velocity was fine:
As you can see, Encarnacion walked on what should have been a 3-2 count and could easily have been a strikeout if Bard had gotten the call on pitch #4 which was right on the edge. I can't really call that 'bad pitching'. During the game thread I was cursing Hernandez something fierce. In truth, he blew one pitch and could be argued with on one other. Hernandez still sucks, though because that one blown pitch call was ultimately extremely costly.
Next, he faced Johnson:
This one looked worse on the Gameday Pitch f/x so I owe Hernandez a bit of an apology grousing on this one PA in particular during the game. Bard basically walked Johnson on his own. Only pitch #3 was arguably even close. That said - I am wondering why we tried to attack the left side of the plate like that when Hernandez wasn't giving anything there. Was that decision by Bard or Tek or what?
So that is how Bard got into trouble. Here we sit, with no outs and two men on base.
Now, to this point, it is worth noting that Bard actually only *pitched* suck to one batter - Johnson. He actually came within a bad call and a close call of striking out Encarcion and if not for HIS OWN error and Youk's error - would now be out of the inning with no runs!!!
I.E. - if not for his AND Youk's bad defense AND arguably a single bad pitch call by Hernandez, we would NOT be bitching and moaning about Bard's pitching!
Just to finish this out - Bard then got killed by Loewen on a fast ball down the middle:
Yes, pitch #3 sure looks tantalizing, but technically, it is just outside the zone so we can't bitch about it. Sure was close, though .... and if he had gotten the call, he'd have been out of the inning with just the one run in and we'd still have the lead.
Finally, mercifully, Bard induced McCoy to hit into an inning ending DP on two pitches:
So what does all this tell us? Bard faced 6 batters. He only pitched horribly to exactly one (Johnson). Got rotten luck / a bad call on his first batter. He then suffered the consequences of two defensive errors - one of them his own. He then had a deep count on Loewen that included another very close call on one pitch before finally giving in to the killer single.
I don't want to sound like I am absolving Bard here. He committed his error and one has to wonder if he's feeling it mentally.
But his actual pitching - what he's throwing over the plate - really wasn't all that bad. In fact, it was pretty damn good except for against Johnson and one bad pitch to Loewen.
And that's where there is hope. I don't think Bard is injured. I don't think he's suddenly lost his 'stuff'. He's still got awesome heat. He just needs to stay cool and keep pitching and all this should work out.
Don't give up yet, folks!