St. Louis Cardinals: The Best Internal Mid-Season Upgrade

Mar 16, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham (28) signs some autographs before a spring training game against Minnesota Twins at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham (28) signs some autographs before a spring training game against Minnesota Twins at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals have a secret weapon, forgotten by the rest of the league, and he will be the biggest midseason addition to the 2017 Cardinals.

The St. Louis Cardinals have a difference maker hidden in the ranks.  This pitcher has big league experience, and “stuff” rivaled by only a select few major league relievers.  He also shares something in common with St. Louis Cardinals wunderkind Rick Ankiel.

Before I disclose the name of this pitcher, let me show a stat line and see if the identity can be ascertained therefrom:

Over his first three seasons, this pitcher posted a 2.97 ERA.  He has an 8.8 K/9 and a 2.8 strikeout to walk ratio over his five big league seasons.  This pitcher has a career ERA+ of 119.

If you guessed Kevin Siegrist, you were wrong for several reasons.  First, I clearly misled you with my Rick Ankiel comparison.  Second, Siegrist has not pitched for five seasons; Siegrist has pitched four seasons.  Finally, Siegrist’s numbers are a 3.14 ERA over his first three seasons, a four-season K/9 rate of 10.6 and a career ERA+ of 145.

Siegrist is a better pitcher, now, but this player was once as dominant as Siegrist.  The player signed a two-year, minor-league pact with the St. Louis Cardinals and he is entering the second year of that deal.

The pitcher is none other than former Boston Red Sox phenom, Daniel Bard.  Bard could be the midseason acquisition the St. Louis Cardinals need to make a push for the playoffs.

Recent reports indicate that Bard has a new delivery with the St. Louis Cardinals and that he is throwing fastballs with movement at 96 mph, consistently, with a nasty slider and other off-speed offerings coming in around 86 mph.

How did the St. Louis Cardinals stumble on this elite setup man and why did Boston move on from him?  Rick Ankiel’s story offers parallels to explain Daniel Bard’s coup de grace.

The Yips and Blass Disease Plague Certain Players

As recently reported on this site, Rick Ankiel suffered from the “yips” or Blass Syndrom which is named after former pitcher Steve Blass.  Blass syndrome or disease refers to a Space Jam-like loss of talent that is not traceable to any physical injury.

For this disease, there is no cure.  As far as baseball fans know.  The yips are a mental health disorder that seemingly creates a physical manifestation of anxiety and neurosis in a baseball player’s game.

Often times we see the “inexplicable” loss of control or inability to perform at the level expected by the fans.  The yips, however, appear to be a physical manifestation of a common trait among the populous – anxiety.

Yips brings the intersection of mental health disorders and physical performance to the forefront of the MLB landscape.  Because the occurrences of the yips are seemingly sparse and isolated, however, mental health does not get its day in the MLB court.

For this very reason, there is not the type of in-depth, social psychological rigor and study surrounding the topic in psychology or sociology, either.  In situations of the rare physical manifestation of a mental health disorder, though, behavioral and other psychologists typically lean on case studies to define and explain a phenomenon.

Back to Bard

That brings us back to Daniel Bard and Rick Ankiel.  The St. Louis Cardinals are in the minority in that the organization has had two uber-talented pitchers experience the same peak of success, followed by obscurity in baseball.  At a minimum, their stories elucidate the ignorance of mental health issues in the MLB and shed light on the need for treatment, study, and altered expectations for players encountering such issues.

So what should the St. Louis Cardinals and the general public expect from Daniel Bard?  Nothing.  But, at the same time, everything.  Hope springs eternal in rediscovering the ceiling that players flashed over sustained periods of time in their young careers, and there is no reason to depart from such expectations in this case.

Indeed, people suffering from mental health disorders and issues almost never receive optimism and hope from third-parties.  Baseball offers a bright light perspective of hope and optimism that mental health victims suffering from the yips and other conditions will achieve similar results that they exhibited at various points in their careers.

We all want that to happen, but let me caution you that these players should receive your support regardless of prior performance.  People suffering from mental health disorders and the friends, family, and employers working with those people are consistently pushed to their limits each day.  A player suffering from the yips does not know how or what to do to fix the problem or he would have done that already.

Because I have faith in all (read most) people, I trust that those players dealing with mental health issues will achieve, inspire, and lead future generations of players.  I choose this belief no matter what happens with Daniel Bard or Rick Ankiel in their careers.  I hope I get to see them perform at the highest level of baseball competition only because I believe that is what they want and love.

I know one thing, past performance tells us that Daniel Bard could step into the role Trevor Rosenthal or Kevin Siegrist play should one of them get injured.  I also know that Bard helps the St. Louis Cardinals, either on the field or internally by reminding the team that mental health is a serious topic that requires specific and individualized attention.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

Whether you see Daniel Bard striking out Kris Bryant with a 96 mph fastball or a devastating changeup/slider offering, or if you see Daniel Bard retiring from baseball to pursue some other passion of his, I hope you think about the complexities of performing at the highest possible level of athletic performance, in the most difficult sport, with a mental health condition that nobody cares about, recognizes, treats, or supports.

If Bard can cope with his mental illness and regain the form he showed in 2010 with Boston when he posted a 1.93 ERA, then he will be the biggest midseason upgrade the trigger-shy Mozeliak can make this summer.  It appears that Bard is bound for AA, and that is a harbinger that even a modicum of high performance by him will land him in St. Louis imminently.

Next: HBO Special to Feature Rick Ankiel and Discuss the Yips

I know I will remember Daniel Bard’s strength in competing with compromised mental health.  The fans and major league baseball would be well-served in doing the same and supporting Bard’s and other players’ efforts.  Perhaps with our collective support, players like Bard and Ankiel can continue to do that which they love – play ball.