Daniel Bard and the Importance of Actually Watching the Game

Daniel Bard made his regular season starting pitching debut for the Boston Red Sox last night and took the loss after giving up 5 runs in five innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays . Today you can read two very different accounts of this game, those written by people who watched the game and those written by people who did not. Because the move to convert Daniel Bard into a starter is so controversial, this has lead to some poor conclusions being made by baseball writers and should serve as a reminder about the importance of actually watching games.

The reality of covering baseball, in print or online, is such that every baseball writer will, at some point, likely write about a game from the boxscore or from a highlight reel. This is just the reality of the job when you are covering 32 teams all playing 162 game schedules. More often than not, the numbers tell the story pretty well. After all, that is the reason that baseball statistics mean so much more to fans than the statistics of other games do. However, there are times when the real story gets lost in the numbers and the case of Daniel Bard’s first start is definitely one of those times.

That is not to say that Bard was faultless in the loss. He did allow 8 hits and a few of those, like Adam Lind’s RBI single were poor pitches in the zone. Yet, Bard made far more good pitches than bad, featured excellent control and struck out six hitters. Most importantly though, seven of the eight hits against Bard came on ground balls, including the only extra base hit, a broken bat double down the line from Adam Lind. Two of those hits did not even leave the infield. The defense, which featured Nick Punto in place of Mike Aviles at short stop, was responsible for a number of those hits. Kevin Youkilis watched Lind’s double and missed a driving attempt at the Yunel Escobar lead off single that many other third baseman could have gotten to. Nick Punto blew a chance to get Daniel Bard out of the first inning unscathed when he bobbled a hard hit grounder from Edwin Encarnacion and failed to make the play on the final hit Bard gave up, a high chopper from Brett Lawrie.

Aside from the excellent ground ball rate (64.7%), Daniel Bard’s skills are also reflected in his FIP and xFIP. Fielding Independent Pitching rates his single start as 77% better than league average. Even regressing his home run rate with xFIP, the newly minted starter would be expected to carry an ERA around 1.74. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine summed things up perfectly-

“His pitches were good — very good. You know, not quite the results we’re looking for and he’s a little disappointed. You take that 30 times a year, you’re going to get a lot of wins out of it.”

At least two of the runs charged to Bard are largely Valentine’s fault. After stretching by using the first time starter in the sixth inning, Valentine elected to bring in Justin Thomas, the last reliever to make the team out of camp. Thomas is a lefty and can be effective as a LOOGY, but Valentine did not elect to pull him after he walked the left-handed Eric Thames. Predictably, the right-handed J.P. Arencibia singled, driving in Brett Lawrie and moving Thames to third base. Thomas then allowed Thames to score on a Colby Rasmus single, turning Bard’s only walk and another infield single into two runs charged against the Red Sox starter. Even the man who went with Thomas admitted it was a mistake:

“I should have brought in [Matt] Albers with the bases loaded. It might have been still a 3-1 game,” Valentine said. “We get a great ground ball there and maybe we would have won that game.”

These details will not matter much in the long course of the season, but with the debate over Bard’s ideal role still raging, they are very important right now. With better defense and relief, Bard easily could have had a line of 3 runs, 5 hits and one walk with 6 strike outs, and silenced most critics. Based on what we have seen thus far,  if the Red Sox were to move Bard back to the bullpen at this point, it would be a disastrous mistake, based on the worst of reactionary thinking. Despite an unimpressive line, Bard once again showed why he belongs in the rotation and it would be very difficult for anyone who actually saw him working to come away with a negative impression of his abilities.

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