Daniel Bard's comeback story is great, maybe the best one in baseball in 2020. But it's even greater because it's not just a feel-good story. Bard didn't just make it back to the Majors after seven years. He's flat-out dealing.
It's amazing that Bard is even pitching at all -- his Rockies debut on July 25, which ended with him getting the win, was his first big league appearance since April 27, 2013. Things got even more amazing on Tuesday when Bard notched his first save since June 5, 2011, a span of over nine years.
But what's maybe most amazing of all is how good Bard looks on the mound -- and how a pitcher who hadn't pitched since 2013 looks like he was made to pitch in 2020 all along.
Bard's strikeout-to-walk ratio is perfect
Keep in mind that the reason Bard left baseball in the first place was the yips -- a pitcher's worst nightmare, the sudden inability to throw a strike.
Now look at Bard's 2020 stat line. A pitcher whose yips were so bad that they had him experimenting as a submariner on Minor League backfields three years ago now has 12 strikeouts and zero walks in eight appearances this season.
Yes, Bard has a perfect strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has the most strikeouts without a walk of any pitcher in the Major Leagues.
Most strikeouts without a walk, 2020
Daniel Bard (COL) -- 12 K, 0 BB
Raisel Iglesias (CIN) -- 12 K, 0 BB
Travis Lakins (BAL) -- 11 K, 0 BB
Yency Almonte (COL) -- 11 K, 0 BB
Tyler Duffey (MIN) -- 10 K, 0 BB
Bard is one of only four pitchers to make at least eight appearances this season without issuing a single free pass, along with Lakins, teammate Almonte and the Padres' Matt Strahm (who has only four K's).
Along with those 12 strikeouts and zero walks, Bard also hasn't allowed a homer, even while pitching five of his eight games in the altitude of Coors Field. Put those three things together and you get a sparkling 0.36 FIP. That's Fielding-Independent Pitching, a version of ERA based on strikeouts, walks and homers that tries to provide a truer estimate of a pitcher's run-prevention ability by isolating the outcomes he has the most control over. Bard's FIP is second-lowest among all relievers with at least eight appearances this year, and the lowest of all pitchers with nine or more innings pitched, way ahead of Lakins' 1.03.
Reliever FIP leaders, 2020
Min. 8 appearances
1) Nick Anderson (TB): 0.38
2) Daniel Bard (COL): 0.40
3) A.J. Minter (ATL): 0.85
4-T) James Karinchak (CLE): 0.88
4-T) Joakim Soria (OAK): 0.88
Bard's 3.00 ERA looks good on its own. His peripheral stats look even better. Besides, the FIP, there's his ERA-, a league- and ballpark-adjusted ERA number. League average ERA- is 100; Bard's ERA- is 58. He's been nearly twice as good as the rest of the league.
Similarly, Bard's Statcast quality-of-contact numbers indicate how effective he's been at stifling hitters. Bard's most recent appearance lowered his expected ERA to 2.98, based on his strikeouts, walks and the exit velocity and launch angle of the batted balls he's allowed.
Bard's fastball is explosive again
If you think back to Bard's fireballing prime with the Red Sox, you remember the explosive 100 mph fastball.
Well, he still has that explosive fastball. And we have the Statcast data to quantify it.
First, the velocity. Luckily, we know how fast Bard's fastball was with the Red Sox, because pitch tracking goes all the way back to 2008. And we know how the injuries and mechanical wonkiness that derailed his career in the first place brought about a precipitous drop in velocity.
Now, at age 35, he's essentially gained that high-end velocity back. Maybe he can't touch 102 like he did as a 24-year-old, but he can dial it up to 99 -- his first strikeout upon his return registered at 98.7 mph. He's not exactly the same pitcher, but Bard's fastball has some of that old life again.
Bard's avg. fastball velocity by season
2009: 98.0 mph
2010: 98.5 mph
2011: 97.9 mph
2012: 93.7 mph
2013: 94.3 mph
2020: 96.5 mph (max 98.7)
But while we only know the velocity for early-career Bard, now we know way more. And what stands out is the spin. If you want to know why a pitcher has a riding fastball that blows past hitters at the top of the zone, spin rate is a good place to start looking.
Highest 4-seam fastball spin rate, 2020
Min. 50 4-seamers thrown (206 pitchers)
1) Trevor Bauer (CIN): 2,797 rpm
2) Lucas Sims (CIN): 2,760 rpm
3) Corbin Burnes (MIL): 2,688 rpm
4) Daniel Bard (COL): 2,627 rpm
5) Chris Stratton (PIT): 2,613 rpm
MLB avg. 4-seam fastball spin rate: 2,304 rpm
Bard has a top-five fastball spin rate in all of MLB. That spin has helped him collect half of his strikeouts on heaters, and put away the hitter about a third of the time when he throws a fastball with two strikes.
Now, about the other half of those strikeouts …
Bard's fastball/slider combo is made for 2020
Bard was a four-seam/slider pitcher in the first stage of his career, too, but his return to MLB in 2020 comes at the perfect time for him to optimize that two-pitch combination.
Breaking balls are in. Slider usage has increased league-wide in every single season of Statcast tracking, from 14.5% in 2015 to 17.8% in 2020. And now that Bard has rejoined Major League Baseball, he's part of the trend.
In his early years as a Red Sox reliever, Bard was fastball-heavy, throwing his four-seamer close to 60% of the time. He threw his slider only around a quarter of the time.
Now he's even. Bard is throwing his four-seamer 37% of the time, and his slider … 37% of the time. (He also mixes in some two-seamers and changeups.)
He's also throwing his slider harder than he did back in the day. From 2009-11, it came in at about 84.5 mph. Now, he's throwing his slider 87.1 mph, and even touching 90 with it. That harder, tighter slider, which gets two inches of horizontal break above average, seems to play really well off Bard's high four-seamers. That's how four-seam/slider pitchers get it done these days. The other half of Bard's strikeouts are on sliders, and when he throws it with two strikes, he puts the hitter away half the time.
Put it all together, and Bard doesn't look like a 35-year-old on a seven-year layoff. He looks like a lights-out reliever on a first-place team who's striking out nearly a third of the batters he faces. Because that's what he is.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.