Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
There are many words for Daniel Bard's season. None of them are positive.
In the history of bad seasons, this one's kind of a doozy.
In the end, Daniel Bard's performance in 2012 doesn't hold a candle to some of the truly awful years we've seen out of players in the past. John Lackey's 2011 alone makes it seem almost irrelevant. But put in context, this disaster may be one for the ages if we don't see something different out of him in 2013.
Headed into the meat of the offseason, Ben Cherington was given a unique puzzle: provide two starters and fix the closer-free bullpen without spending any money at all. Oh, and he needed a right fielder too. On the surface, the solution for the bullpen was simple: plug Daniel Bard in and go from there as best you can. The problem came in the other requirement, with their only strong options in the rotation costing too much for the suddenly thrifty Sox (Kuroda, Jackson, Oswalt). After that lot, it was a steep drop to players like Aaron Cook and the entirely questionable duo of Felix Doubront (whose last season had been derailed by conditioning issues) and Alfredo Aceves (who had a troublesome habit of hitting guys in the head when he started).
In that context it's easier to understand why Ben Cherington went to Bard in the rotation, especially if he had an idea of who he could and could not get on the trade market (those deals, of course, went to hell in a handbasket as well, but I digress). Bard had been angling for it too, and so the move was made, and Bard's fate was sealed.
Interestingly, it wouldn't come through right away. Bard actually looked pretty good through his first few starts, even managing to survive quite nicely in one outing where he was really lacking his best stuff. The honeymoon period would be short-lived, however. Carrying a 3.72 ERA into his fourth start, Bard would allow four runs in under six innings of work, striking out just one while walking two. He would only once strike even half as many batters out as he walked in his next four games, and after a brief return to form against Baltimore and Detroit, Bard completely collapsed in this gem of a game. With Bard having proved himself as dangerous to opposing batters' health as to our mental stability, the plug was finally pulled.
If that were the end of the story things might not be so bad. We might be headed into 2013 expecting Bard to bounce back as a strong part of the bullpen. Unfortunately, there's still a good four months to fill in there, and things just got worse. Because Bard wasn't simply failing as a starter, but even as a reliever. Gone were the high-90s fastball and the biting slider that could be dropped on the outside corner. By the time he returned to the Red Sox' bullpen (after failing to produce results in the minors), Bard's fastball had fallen so far that it did not even touch 95 once in his second half with the team. The only thing you could count on him for was earned runs.
Daniel Bard is not a lost cause. Somewhere inside him is a 100 MPH flamethrower who ranks amongst the most intimidating pitchers to face in the game. Somewhere inside him is a top-notch closer who the Sox would really like to have back right now. The problem is that they can't at all depend on finding that guy right now, leaving one of baseball's brightest up-and-comers little more than a lottery ticket. Quite the fall to take in one year's time.