Slumping ballplayers are uncomfortable to watch. For example, all season long, it has made you squirm to watch the White Sox slugger Adam Dunn at the plate. Pitchers and pitches have simply baffled him this season. There are times when the Red Sox' Carl Crawford has looked that way as well. During stretches like that you wonder how they became the stars that they are.
When batter slumps you usually have to wait a few innings before you can see if he can correct his error and look better, but when a pitcher slumps it feels relentless. That is what it has been like recently for Boston's Daniel Bard, the model for the great 8th inning pitcher. Pitch after pitch you can see a guy totally out of sync and that is something that he and Boston can ill afford at any time, but especially with the postseason around the corner.
Let's take a look at Bard going into the slump.
June and July Bard was near perfect
From May 27 to the end of July, Bard did not allow a run
During this stretch, Bard faced 96 batters who went 11-for-88 against him. He allowed nine singles, two doubles and nothing else. Not only did batters hit just .125 against him, they struck out 25 times. Batters hit .141 against the 234 fastballs he threw, .200 against the 22 changeups he tossed, and an amazing .053 against his 53 sliders. The slider was so effective that batters swung and missed 53.8% of the time.
Then the calendar rolled into August
In Bard's first two August appearances, he allowed four runs in just an inning an a third. He faced nine batters, walking one and gave up four hits to the remaining eight batters with two homering. Batters went 3-for-4 against the fastball with a homer and 1-for-3 against the slider with a homer. Location in the strike zone was the issue as the fastball still came in at over 98 MPH and the slider around 84.
But Bard and associates made a correction and from August 7 to August 31, Bard was back being Bard. He held batters to a .065 batting average and struck out 13 in 9.2 innings without allowing a run.
Then the calendar rolled into September
The heat map shows a totally different pitcher than our picture of June July. Sox manager Terry Francona said yesterday following Bard's latest meltdown, "Right now the fastball command is certainly an issue and getting him in trouble. His fastball is kind of cutting on him a little bit."
This month batters are 6-for-15 (.400) against Bard's fastball while striking out only twice. The key to this slump is the five walks he's issued in the 4.2 innings. Location this time is not the issue only in the strike zone, it's that he has no idea where that fastball is going. It's not so much that he is getting shelled, he is out there throwing, not pitching.
One thing is for certain, when you have a starting pitching staff that is as suspect as Boston's if you have an 8th inning thrower and not a pitcher, you have a major pain in the backside with a capital "B" and that stands for "Bard."