On Josh Bard

Or On The Veteran Catcher Brought In To Challenge The Veteran Catcher Brought In To Challenge The Youngsters

So the Mariners gave minor league contracts to two former big leaguers today. One - Chad Cordero - sucks a lot. The other - Josh Bard - sucks a little less, but he's a 31 year old backstop who's hit .219 the last two years, so he clearly doesn't have a lot left to offer. Guys who get minor league contracts generally don't.

It's easy to build a profile of Josh Bard the player. Plenty of people, I imagine, already have. The upside is that he's a switch-hitter who makes contact, hits for a little bit of power, has a decent idea of the strike zone, and is familiar with a few guys already on the team. The downside is that he'll be 32 next year, he doesn't hit a whole lot, and he has a career caught-stealing rate of just 20%. As an overall package, it's not bad for a guy who's effectively free, but it's also pretty clear why he's effectively free in the first place.

There are, however, two things I'd like to mention here, things that I think work in Bard's favor. The first is this:

CS% as a Padre: 12% (31/258)
CS% as a non-Padre: 33% (52/156)

There is a very striking difference in there - Josh Bard the Padre appears to have one of the most woeful arms in the history of catchers, while Josh Bard the non-Padre seems perfectly fine. Now, I don't know all of the information here, and Bard cannot be completely exonerated for his lousy performance with San Diego. But it's worth considering that there might've been something systemic at play, something out of Bard's control that made his numbers look worse. Observe the case of Michael Barrett, who spent a lot of time catching the same Padres teams:

CS% as a Padre: 15% (20/135)
CS% as a non-Padre: 25% (100/408)

Then there's Mike Piazza, who was Bard's teammate in San Diego in 2006:

CS% as a Padre: 12% (13/110)
CS% as a non-Padre: 24% (410/1723)

And Rob Bowen:

CS% as a Padre: 11% (4/35)
CS% as a non-Padre: 23% (12/52)

For whatever reason, the evidence suggests that those Padres teams made things exceptionally difficult on their catchers. We can hypothesize why. Perhaps the coaching staff downplayed the importance of holding on baserunners. Perhaps the pitching staff didn't pay a lot of attention to first base. Perhaps this is all just statistical noise and there's not actually anything here at all. But Chris Young has allowed 137 stolen bases in 150 opportunities over the course of his career. Jake Peavy's at 118 out of 144. I think the biggest factor was the composition of the pitching staff, and even if you just take Young out of the equation, then Bard doesn't come out looking nearly so bad.

So that's one thing. I believe that Josh Bard's arm is better than his career numbers would suggest, as his rate has been brought down by spending time in San Diego. There's also a second thing.

I love a hothead. I don't know why. People with bad attitudes or volatile behavior drive me crazy in real life. But it's different in sports. Maybe this comes from watching so much hockey. I just get a kick out of watching professional athletes flip out, probably because it goes against the very definition of "professional" that's built into their job title. I like watching Chris Neil mouth off at any opportunity. I laugh whenever Philip Rivers starts screaming obscenities at opposing players, or fans, or nobody. And one of the only things that made some of those recent Padre teams watchable was the anticipation of Josh Bard reaching his boiling point. I have a friend who's a Padres fan, and we used to joke about it all the time. Josh Bard is an angry man. Or, at least, he plays like one. He's not happy about stolen bases, and he doesn't like popping the ball in the air, but he really, really hates getting called out on strikes. Josh Bard has struck out 252 times over the course of his career. 113 of those were called. And, if you ask Josh Bard, all 113 were debatable, because Josh Bard knows the strike zone, and if Josh Bard didn't swing at it, it wasn't a strike.

He has a temper you can set your watch to, and for some reason, to me, that makes him likable in the way that Rivers is likable. It's stupid, and it never gets you anywhere as a player, but it's entertaining, and on another level it's indicative of what's inside. People get on calm players from time to time for not looking like they care enough. No one's ever going to confuse Josh Bard for a player who doesn't care. Josh Bard cares, and he wants the world to know how much.

There was also this.

Overall, Josh Bard isn't much of a player. He's past his peak as a hitter, he's somewhere between average and bad behind the plate, and even if he breaks camp with the team, he'll be nothing but a footnote in Mariners history, a guy who kept a spot warm for someone else. But I still like the idea of having him around, both because he can do Adam Moore and Rob Johnson some good, and because for however long he's a Mariner, he won't be boring. Having Josh Bard in a game gives everybody something extra for which to watch, and when you're talking about a backup, I don't know that you could ask for much more.

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