It’s not often that you see a professional baseball player with a 175.00 ERA. Or one with 9 walks, 7 hit batsmen, and 2 outs in 18 batters faced. You’d assume that pitcher had no talent, no hope for making the major leagues. You wouldn’t assume that pitcher was a 28 year-old Daniel Bard.
Most casual baseball fans would know Daniel Bard as the smoke-throwing Red Sox set-up man, the heir apparent to Jonathan Papelbon at closer a few years ago. Some might remember his famously failed move to the starting rotation in 2012, one that saw him lose his ability to throw strikes. But few would recognize Daniel Bard on the mound these days, as he is hardly a shadow of his former self.
When people ask who my favorite Red Sox player is from the last few years, I say Daniel Bard. He was everything I loved in a pitcher. He had a triple-digit fastball and a nasty breaking ball. I watched his University of North Carolina team that made it to the final of the College World Series and instantly liked their number two pitcher (Current Red Sox Andrew Miller was their ace). I then closely followed him as he sailed through the minor leagues. He was the first Red Sox player that I had watched in college, in the minors and then in the majors.
With the big club, Bard was incredible at times as the Red Sox’s 8th inning man. In 2010, he had a 3.1 WAR while posting a 1.93 ERA in 73 appearances. And in 2011, he was even better for most of the year, owning a scoreless streak of 26 and a third innings over the course of the summer. Like most of the Red Sox that year, he imploded in September, but there wasn’t too much concern about Papelbon’s exit that offseason, as Bard seemed more than capable of replacing him. However, Bard wanted to be a starter again like he was in college and implored the Red Sox to give him a chance.
Bobby Valentine did a lot of things wrong in Boston. But his most harmful decision has to be letting Daniel Bard try to become a starter. Bard started the year okay, but quickly lost all control, walking more men than he struck out. A particularly ugly start in Toronto was the beginning of the end. He went to the minor leagues to figure things out but only saw things unravel further. The Red Sox finally gave up on him last September, letting Theo Epstein and the Cubs have a shot at straightening out Bard’s problems on the mound.
The final blow to Bard came this past January when he underwent surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an injury that might have caused all of his problems from the start, one that forced Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter into retirement. I’m no doctor, but the injury sounds pretty gruesome. After the surgery, Bard faced a long road back.
The Rangers offered him a new start this year. He worked hard to get himself back on the field, and finally returned in early June. But in four appearances in low-A this month, Bard has only gotten two men out. Technically, he hasn’t allowed a single hit. But he’s walked nine and hit seven batters. Bard simply is not the same pitcher he once was. At this rate, his career will probably end soon, and for a player who was seen as the Red Sox long-term closer as recently as thirty months ago, it is truly a remarkably upsetting turn of events.
Alfredo Aceves took over Papelbon’s closer role for Boston in 2012. But Bobby Valentine could have made the simple choice of putting Daniel Bard in that role. That decision cost the young man a long career, millions of dollars, but most of all, it caused Bard to lose his dignity on the mound. One has to wonder what might have been. There aren’t too many baseball stories as tragic as this one.