Typically, in 15-team formats, you don’t find closers that are beginning the year as the team’s closer. If it is the case, they have either been thrust into that role because of injuries, or their leash is about the length of a fully stretched out paper clip. However, Colorado right-hander Daniel Bard finds himself outside of the top 250 picks, per NFBC data, but he appears to have at least a half decent leash to begin the year.
The former starter turned reliever was solid in 24.2 innings for the team last year following a seven-year layoff. He went 4-2 with six saves and a 3.65 ERA across 24.2 innings on the bump. His 25.5 percent strikeout rate is a bit lower than one would like from a reliever, but he has the ability to get saves, so that more than makes up for it. Yes, he pitches in Coors, which stinks, but some of his metrics inspire confidence for the 2021 season.
While his 25.5 percent strikeout rate left a bit to be desired, all four of his pitches generated a whiff rate of at least 20 percent, per Baseball Savant, but his four-seamer and slider are his go-to put away pitches. I expect his strikeout rate to jump a bit in 2021, and any increase will certainly help.
Following that lengthy layoff, his velocity is right on par for when he was pitching in Boston in his mid-to-late twenties, and he’s even throwing his slider a tad harder. Sheesh! He’s still bringing the heat and it is quite impressive after such a layoff. It’s an incredible comeback story for the hard-throwing right-hander, and now it is time to go to the next chapter!
Now, there are some potential issues for Bard, especially when he comes out in the ninth inning at Coors Field. He started the year strong, in terms of inducing a 56.3 percent ground ball rate. However, as the year went on, the ground ball rate dropped, more fly balls were hit, and the hard contact rate kept jumping. Fortunately for Bard, despite more home runs, it didn’t hurt him in the home run department, but you can only dodge the bullet for so long in Colorado.
He was navigating a slippery slope down the stretch, and he’s fortunate that it didn’t blow up his season. On a larger scale, for the entire 2020 season, his 19th percentile exit velocity and sixth percentile hard hit rate leave a lot to be desired and could potentially be catastrophic at Coors in 2021.
Bard certainly won’t have a leash as long as some of the upper-tier guys in the league, but personally, I believe it is longer than many expect. To say it frankly, the competition in the Colorado pen is less than concerning for Bard. Here are some of his main challengers to the ninth inning gig for the Rockies:
- Jairo Díaz : 7.65 ERA in 2020, and since start of 2019, his 9.4 percent walk rate is ugly
- Mychal Givens : Career fly ball rate of 40.1 percent and a whopping HR/9 mark of 1.90 over last two years (3.86 in 9.1 IP for Colorado in 2020).
- Scott Oberg : Missed all of 2020 to thoracic outlet surgery, but was solid the two years prior
- Robert Stephenson : Good strikeout arm, but command issues and 1.73 HR/9 mark for his career won’t translate well to Coors
Bard isn’t free of concerns either, but he’s the arm I trust most in that bullpen and can be a cheap source of saves later on in drafts. He doesn’t cost much and is a perfect third reliever for your team. Sure, there’s some volatility, but at this price you can’t go wrong with a ninth-inning job to begin the year. I’m actively targeting Bard in all drafts, and an uptick in strikeouts should help ratios, on top of some saves.
I’m not ready to proclaim him as a reliable RP2 for your fantasy team, but I absolutely love the idea of a reliever with more than one strikeout per inning and potentially 20 saves outside of the top 250 picks. Yes, please!