Colorado Rockies: Daniel Bard’s problematic fastball

After winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2020, Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Bard has struggled so far in 2021. Much of that can be attributed to a fastball that has been feasted upon by opposing hitters.

On Saturday night in a 12-inning loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field, Bard gave up two hits in his lone frame on the mound. While neither batter scored, it continues a trend for Bard where clean innings have been few and far between for the 35-year-old right-hander. In fact, the last time Bard appeared in a game for the Rockies and didn’t allow a hit or walk was on April 8 when he recorded two outs against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

This month alone, Bard has given up 10 hits and four walks in six innings and has posted a WHIP of 2.33 while opponents are hitting .370 against him. It’s led to an overall ERA of 6.14 and Bard giving up 13.5 hits per nine innings (compared to 8.0 in 2020).

Following an early May outing in Arizona where he gave up four runs on four hits, Bard told reporters, “It’s either that the sequencing is getting too predictable, or they know what’s coming. It’s one or the other.” According to BaseballSavant.com, it’s also Bard’s fastball that is becoming a big problem.

So what is going on with Colorado Rockies closer Daniel Bard’s fastball?

While Bard’s velocity is right where it was in 2020 (97.1 mph in 2020 versus 97.7 this season), opposing hitters are feasting on it far more than in 2020.

Last season, on Bard’s fastballs, opponents posted a .244 batting average (.252 expected batting average or xBA), .366 slugging percentage (.411 expected slugging percentage or xSLG), .308 weighted on-base average (WOBA), and .329 weighted expected on-base average (wxOBA). This season, Bard’s fastball numbers when facing opponents have skyrocketed, with .462 batting average (.350 xBA), .885 slugging (.735 xSLG), .595 wOBA, and .499 wXOBA.

Meanwhile, Bard’s numbers when throwing his slider, changeup, and sinker (secondary pitches he uses in that order) have been as good or better than they were in 2020. The fastball has been the statistical outlier of the bunch.

Part of the problems with the fastball come from the location. See below Bard’s fastballs that have gone for hits and where they were located.

Remember that Arizona game where Bard was quoted after? Here’s one of the hits Bard surrendered that day, and it came on the first pitch to Daulton Varsho. Watch where catcher Elias Díaz wants the pitch and where it ends up.

Same thing on a 2-2 pitch earlier in the season to Zach McKinstry of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pitch registered 98 mph, but was also right in the heart of the strike zone.

For Bard to regain his form, he has to find his fastball location. Certainly a change in sequencing, as Bard suggested, will make an improvement as well. However, when the pitch he is throwing the most is also the one where opponents are having the most success, something has to change … and soon.