This Sunday Daniel Bard was designated for assignment as the Boston Red Sox attempted to make room for John McDonald and Quintin Berry on the 40-man roster. For the next ten days, any team in baseball will have the opportunity to claim Bard, and it’s extremely likely that there will be a crappy team that is willing to take a flier on Bard (like, say the Mets).
This move comes as no surprise considering Bard’s recent struggles. In 16 minor league appearances this season, Bard pitched 15.1 innings and walked 27 batters while only striking out 9. In 1.2 innings of Rookie League ball (the lowest level in which the Red Sox have an affiliate), Bard allowed 2 runs, walked 6 batters, hit a batter, and threw 2 wild pitches. His command and velocity have deserted him, making him a shell of the pitcher he once was. Many Sox fans will look blame the decision to turn Bard into a starter for his demise. But in retrospect, the warning signs were always there that Bard could have a Rick Ankiel-esque meltdown. His inherent wildness, combined with the Red Sox poor handling of him, led to his demise.
Bard was drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft, 28th overall, out of the University of North Carolina. Before his first season, Baseball America ranked him as the 81st best prospect in baseball. The Sox saw Bard as a starter, and in 2007 he debuted for Greenville in single-A ball. Despite an atrocious 6.42 ERA in 17 starts, Bard was called up to high-A ball, where he made 5 starts for Lancaster, going 0-2 with a 10.12 ERA. Overall, Bard walked 78 batters in 75 innings, along with an astounding 27 wild pitches, while racking up just 47 strikeouts. At that point, Bard was moved to the bullpen, where he started to shine. Flashing an upper 90s fastball with good breaking stuff, Bard excelled the next year, racking up 107 Ks in 77.2 innings, playing for both Greenville and double-A Portland. Perhaps the most promising aspect of Bard’s 2008 season was that he cut his walk total down to just 30. Firmly established as a relief prospect (Baseball America ranked him as the 98th best prospect in all of baseball), Bard was placed on the fast track to the majors, starting the next season in triple-A Pawtucket. After striking out 29 batters in 16 innings and allowing just 2 runs, Bard was called up to the big leagues.
Bard made an immediate impact for the Sox in 2009, striking out 63 batters in 49.1 innings while posting a 3.65 ERA. The next season, he was one of the best relievers in baseball, striking out 76 batters and turning in a 1.93 ERA. But there was a major warning sign that year that the Red Sox did not heed: appearances. Bard pitched in 73 games, meaning that he was pitching nearly every other day. The team should have cut down on his workload to preserve his arm, but instead they continued to overwork him, as Bard made 70 appearances in the Red Sox ill-fated 2011 season. Bard was effective right up until September; in the final month of the season, Bard went 0-4 with a 10.64 ERA. He walked more batters in September than he had the previous three months combined, thus playing a major role in the Sox’s epic choke job.
After a stormy offseason, Bobby Valentine was installed as the new manager. It isn’t entirely clear exactly how much of a role the self-proclaimed inventor of the wrap sandwich played in the decision to turn Bard back into a starter, although it is clear that he played some role. Even at the time, it appeared to be a dumb decision. Bard hadn’t started since 2007, and he had been terrible. Nonetheless, the Sox put him in the rotation. Bard’s velocity dropped drastically, and he never regained it. He went 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA for the year, appearing in 17 games and starting 10. He walked 43 batters and struck out just 38. He was sent to triple-A midway through the year, and he went 3-2 with a 7.03 ERA in 31 appearances for Pawtucket. He also walked 29 batters and hit 10 more.
And that’s really all there is to it. In just a few short years, Bard went from one of baseball’s most promising relievers to a burnout. It’s clear now that the Red Sox overworked him, and it was clear at the time that the Red Sox shouldn’t have turned him into a starter. I think that it’s safe to say that the real beginning of Bard’s demise was in September of 2011. He can now join Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett in the group whose actions that September (and in Crawford’s case really that whole season) led to their exit from the Red Sox organization. As the Sox enter the stretch run this year, they could use another right-handed arm in the bullpen. I don’t think that there’s a single fan out there who doesn’t wish that Daniel Bard was available to fill that role.