Has Daniel Bard been squeezed?

Never a great control pitcher, but known for his strikeouts, Daniel Bard this year has had even more trouble keeping hitters from getting free passes. His strikeouts have dropped as well, and he is struggling even with the outstanding number of ground balls he is inducing.

He is having his worst season of his career hitting the zone, but for comparison I included his zone percentage as given by PITCHf/x as apposed to theuUmpire.

      	      Zone %    Zone % Pitch f/x
      2009    51.70%      50.80%
      2010    47.80%      50.90%
      2011    48.30%      52.90%
      2012    43.50%         51%

It looks like he was squeezed slightly in 2010 and 2011, but this season umpires have been really tough on Bard. There is a 7.5 percentage point difference between the two. For comparison, the league average pitcher has a 45.4 percent in-zone by umpires and according to PITCHf/x they’re throwing 45.4 percent in the zone.

Trying to identify why umpires are squeezing him I broke it down by pitches. His change-up was the first suspect, as it is a pitch he is using significantly more. It is a strike 54 percent of the time, which includes foul balls and swings out of the zone. Here is his strike chart showing it hasn’t been called too tightly

Daniel Bard 2012 Change-up

Before we look at the slider and fastball, we should get an idea of how many pitches umpires have “missed.” Bard has thrown 702 pitches this season and that seven percent would represent 49 pitches. It looks like those pitches are represented in the next two slides for fastballs and sliders.

Daniel Bard 2012 Fastball

Daniel Bard 2012 Slider

Clearly Bard has suffered from some tight calls up in the zone with fastballs and down in the zone with the slider. Seems like a lot of close calls as well that could be given the benefit of the doubt for the umpire. Bard’s slider is probably the bigger concern as he is clearly hitting the corner and not getting the call.

While there is some amount of data to suggest Bard is being squeezed, he’s also not doing the job himself. He’s also not getting swings on his out-of-the-zone pitches like he used to. In 2010 and 2011, batters swung at 32 percent of pitches out of the zone, but it looks like they are reading him better in 2012—they are swinging only 25 percent of the time.

Heading into 2012 I expected Bard could hit the zone better by dropping his velocity, but still throw the high heat when he needed it. That hasn’t been the case so far and he’s been worse on every front. Bard is not doing anything right now to give the Red Sox reason to defend him as a starter in the rotation and he can’t blame it all on the umpires. He’s going to need a turnaround soon or risk a return to the bullpen.

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  1. salvo said...

    Great stuff—-interesting how leaguewide the ump’s zone percentage matches the PitchFx zone percentage, which suggests that, for the most part, the calls really do even out.

    How were you able to collect the data on the ump’s zone pct vs. PitchFx’s zone pct?

  2. Troy Patterson said...

    Thanks Salvo,

    The data was mainly collected at Fangraphs.  If you go to the league stats data you can find the data across the league.  I looked at Zone% under the plate discipline for raw calls and Zone% under Pitch f/x.  Now that this data is so easily available it might be interesting to see changes by leagues and situations.

  3. Chris said...

    I’m curious about these results though. A lot of this could be the results of inconsistency within the strike zone early in ball games leading to the umpire forcing him to throw fatter pitches, it could also have something to do with how Sox catchers are framing his pitches, or maybe that he’s been missing his spots despite still throwing for strikes.

    Any one of these things could force an ump to judge Bard’s pitches harshly, but if you managed to have two, or maybe three of these happen early in a game? There’s no way he’s going to get the benefit of the doubt. The Sox team ERA is an ugly 4.63, but Salty’s cERA is an even uglier 4.95, the worst in the majors among qualified catchers according to ESPN. Salty has also caught him 5 out of his 7 starts this season.

  4. salvo said...

    Thanks for the info, Troy; I was curious to look up similar info on Adam Wainwright, whose last two starts I watched and it seemed like he was getting squeezed in both of them.

    For the year his PitchFx Zone pct is 50.7%, but his actual called Zone pct. is just 45.6%.

    I wanted to see the percentages for just those two games, but I don’t think the FanGraphs tools let you do that…

    Wainwright had a 34/7 K/bb ratio before his last two starts, then he walked 9 batters in the two starts.

  5. salvo said...

    Thanks, Troy—-that confirms what I thought I was seeing: 10 pitches in the strike zone called balls, and another 8-10 an inch or so off it that were called balls.

    That helps explain the 9 walks, 8 of which were on a 3-2 count, including all three walks he issued in the 1st inning of the May 12 game (two with the bases loaded).

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