Walks have been an issue for Daniel Bard in 2012 as he attempts to convert from reliever to starter. Walks have been the issue, really, as entering Tuesday night's contest against the Tigers, he had handed out one more free pass than strikeout. Following his previous start against the Orioles, Bard said that his issues were mechanical, and that a lack of consistency was to blame -- it was something fixable that needed fixing.
Now, one start isn't enough to say that Bard is no longer broken, but the 5-1/3 innings he threw against Detroit were, at the least, encouraging in that regard. Before we get to what he looked like last night, though, let's see what he was doing previously.
This is Bard giving up a home run to Nick Johnson of the Orioles. He falls hard towards first base on his follow-through, and though it's a bit hard to catch, you can see that, while still throwing from a three-quarters angle, he's releasing the ball with almost an overhand delivery (at least relative to what Bard used to do). It's easier to see if you freeze it, as it is in this image from an at-bat against Adam Jones:
The ball has just left his hand, and you can see that it's still three-quarters but with a high release point. This is, outside of 2012, an abnormal arm slot for Bard. From 2010:
Once again, it's a three-quarters delivery, but the ball leaves Bard's hand from a much more level release point, rather than coming up-and-around as it did in his start against the Orioles. This was Bard in relief, and he had his typical velocity -- but also movement -- on that fastball. In case you don't remember how this inning ended, by the way, it was much the same as the at-bat above:
Same release point, same result. Now you've been reminded of who Bard has been, both this year and in the past when he was at his most productive as a major-league pitcher. If you aren't getting a sense of how vastly different the release points are, Brooks Baseball is here to help:
Bard had a handful of pitches in 2010 that resulted in a release as high as what he's shown during the 2012 season. That brings us to his mechanics from Tuesday night against the Tigers:
This is from the first inning, against Prince Fielder. Bard once again is using that three-quarters delivery he's always utilized, but not with the more overhand-looking release point from his time as a starter. That lines his release point up more with his work as a reliever, the Bard the Red Sox would like to see more of.
He struck out four in 5-1/3 innings while walking just two, and while that might not seem impressive on the surface, we're talking about a pitcher who had 29 walks versus 28 strikeouts before Tuesday's outing. If Bard could strike out twice as many as he walked every night, he'd be in a much better place statistically than he is right now, even if he were only punching out seven per nine while doing it.
He also had his old velocity back in addition to some better control, with Bard maxing out at 95 while averaging over 93 mph on his fastball. In his previous start against the Orioles, Bard topped out at 94 while sitting 92, right around where he's been as of late. The extra mile per hour might not seem like much, but if he can command the pitch, and it helps mess up his opponent's timing even a little, then it's a good thing.
According to Alex Speier, Bard worked on moving back to this release in his last side session, as, "I needed to get back to what gave me success for the past three years, and that's being a little bit closed off, a little bit rotational, a little bit lower slot, but it's the same [arm slot]." We'll need more than one start to see if Bard can stick there, and if it will continue to work, but this was a good first step.
Thanks to Ben Lindbergh for creating the various .gifs