Reach back deep into your mental cavities. Remember the days that Daniel Bard was one of the most, if not the most, dominating relievers in all of baseball? It was not that long ago that Bard came into a game and provided a near automatic bridge to Jonathan Papelbon to finish off games for the Red Sox.
Just three years ago to the date, Bard sported a 2.67 ERA with 33 strikeouts, seven walks and a 0.837 WHIP and was considered among the best set-up men in the game. Bard displayed a 99 mph fastball, a near un-hittable slider and an excellent changeup. At the time, it was common thought that Bard would step into the closers role as soon as Papelbon left town.
Red Sox general manger Ben Cherington was extremely high on the potential of Bard moving into the closer role in November of 2011.
"I think Daniel would embrace more responsibility," Cherington told Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston. "Daniel's one of the most prepared and conscientious guys we have in that clubhouse. He's proven he's an elite major league pitcher ... and he's ready for more responsibility."
Fast forward three years and the 28-year-old is out of a job for the third time in the last year. After being designated for assignment by the Red Sox in September of 2013, Bard was claimed off waivers by the Cubs. Having not thrown an inning in the Cubs organization, Bard was waived in December, 2013. Bard subsequently signed with the Texas Rangers on January 14, 2014.
Bard's time with the Rangers went as bad as humanly possible and that, still, may be putting it lightly.
In 2/3 of an inning over the course of four appearances, Bard posted a 175.50 ERA with nine walks, one strikeout, seven HBPs, 13 runs, 121.5 BB/9, 13.5 WHIP and no hits. To put the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae of horribleness, Bard posted these numbers for the Rangers' High-A affiliate, the Hickory Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. Bard was 7.2 years older than the average player during his time with Hickory.
On Thursday, the experiment officially ended when the Rangers cut ties with Bard. Just three years after being described as an "elite major league pitcher" as a 26-year-old, Daniel Bard does not have job and seemingly does not know how to throw a strike anymore.
The popular narrative is that the conversion to starting pitching is what did Bard in. Bobby Valentine, among many others, were in favor of Bard's move to the rotation and the moment is a very concrete moment in Bard's career where things began to fall apart. This perception, however, is very wrong. As colleague Matthew Kory wrote for Sports on Earth, Bard held a sub-4.00 ERA through his first four starts and averaged a strikeout per inning. Bard progressively performed worse and worse and was eventually sent down to Triple-A, where he moved back to the bullpen and continued his struggles.
For Bard, the first major signs of regression were in September, 2011. While the Red Sox began to crumble and fall down the division rankings, Bard quietly turned in his worst month in the big leagues to that point in his career. In 11 appearances, Bard allowed 13 earned runs, struck out eleven, walked nine and had a 1.818 WHIP while opponents hit .256/.396/.372 off of the righty in 11 innings pitched. It had taken 36 2/3 innings for Bard to walk nine batters at the start of 2011. In the month of September, it took Bard only nine innings.
Bard's growing struggle with command and velocity started in September and were only emphasized by a larger sample size and an expanded role in the rotation in 2012.
By 2013, Bard's command was gone and has since gotten even worse. While it was a shock to many that Bard seemingly lost it all a la Rick Ankiel or Steve Blass, the righty displayed signs in the minors during his initial rise to the majors that control issues were something that plagued him mentally. During his first year in pro baseball, Bard posted a 7.08 ERA, walked 78, struck out 47 and had a 2.053 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A Greenville and High-A Lancaster.
Bard told Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe in 2008 that the struggles with command were beyond mechanics.
"Basically, I had probably about as bad of a year as a minor leaguer could possibly have last year," Bard told Benjamin. "It turned from a mechanical thing to a mental thing where I lost confidence in my pitches. I was battling that all year.
From there, Bard found his stuff again and began to gain confidence in his repertoire. The righty quickly posted eye-opening stat lines in the minors and found his way into the Boston bullpen by the end of the 2009 season.
Those days are now long gone for Bard.
Bard's chances of receiving another opportunity with a major league organization may be nil. In less than a year, two organizations took chances on Bard and moved on rather quickly. What's next for Bard is up in the air. That being said, it's hard to imagine Bard throwing another inning in a major league game. Bard was once a flamethrowing reliever poised to become the next Red Sox closer. Instead, Bard's career has gone up in flames and may be done for good at the age of 28.