Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Wacky Experiment of Daniel Bard


Upon the departure of Jonathan Papelbon, the team's closer since 2006, and the subsequent non-moves by the Red Sox front office since, it has seemed that Daniel Bard was pegged to take over the role starting in 2012. However, as is being reported by Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, the team seems to be warming to the idea of Bard in the starting rotation. Instead of looking at how the Red Sox would then build the back-end of their bullpen, today I will take a look at how good of an idea it is to move the team's stellar set-up man.

There is not a whole lot of data for his starting numbers, since he only did so for one year in the minors, and also in college at the University of North Carolina. Against NCAA competition, Bard put up a solid 2.15 K/BB ratio, while giving up 18 home runs in 286 innings over his three years in school. However, how he pitched while he was 18, 19 and 20 against amateur competition doesn't really help us here. The only professional data we have of Bard as a starting pitcher is way back in 2007, when he was in A-ball and high A-ball. During that time, he struggled mightily with control. In 22 combined starts between the levels, he put up an extremely unimpressive 0.60 K/BB ratio. His five starts in high-A ball were particularly off-putting, as he only lasted a total of 13.1 innings, or an average of 2.2 innings per start. Despite a solid 0.44 HR/9, Bard still ended up with a 5.66 FIP in his time in A-ball, because of his poor control (8.98 FIP in high-A).

Of course, I can only assume Bard is a much different pitcher now than he was in his first professional baseball season, so it is important to take those stats for what they are. The other thing that is important to look at is his repertoire, and if it will be able to translate into a starting role.  At this point, Bard seems to pretty much be a two-pitch pitcher, which is not always the best recipe for success as a Big League starting pitcher. The positive thing to keep in mind is that he has slowly been moving away from his fastball and throwing his slider more often. He has gone from throwing his heater 72% of the time in 2010 to 67.7% in 2011, while his slider usage has increased from 20.7% to 24.7%. Looking at the Pithc F/X data available to me on Fangraphs, there aren't many comparable pitchers. Former Red Sox prospect Justin Masterson is one, as he is basically a fastball/slider pitcher as well. Masterson is coming off his best year of his career, going 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA (3.28 FIP) and 4.9 fWAR.

However, the best comparison, in this writer's humble opinion, is Rangers' pitcher Alexi Ogando. Like Bard, he was a converted reliever, although Ogando spent only one year in the bullpen before converting into the rotation. However, they both have similar repertoire's as well. Ogando threw his fastball 67.5% of the time and his slider 27.7%, virtually the same numbers as Bard. The difference was that Bard threw his changeup slightly more (7.1% versus 4.9%), which would seem to be an advantage. Ogando finished last season with a 13-8 record and a 3.51 ERA (3.68 FIP). However, he managed only 169 innings in his first year in the rotation. He saw both his K/9 and BB/9 fall, while his HR/9 rose after the transition. Clearly, the work took a toll on him, as August was his last full month of work, and he finished the month with a 7.14 ERA.

These are, of course, not perfect comparisons, but they should provide at least some insight into what kind of starting pitcher Daniel Bard should be. Keep in mind, Ogando had no starting experience in the minor leagues (just three starts in AA in 2010), and he is also two years older than Bard, despite the lack of experience when they are compared. If the Red Sox can get their hands on another back-of-the-bullpen type arm, and they are expected to discuss trading for Oakland's Andrew Bailey today, I can get on board with the transition for Bard. In this scenario, I would prefer they went out and signed another starter to fill out the rotation (Bedard, anybody?!) and keep Aceves in his swing-man, long relief role. He, along with Felix Doubront, could provide depth for the rotation, while Bobby Jenks and whoever they bring in to close, possibly Bailey, K-Rod, amongst others, could mean a strong enough bullpen. It seems crazy to change roles of your best bullpen arm, but a successful starter is always more valuable than a successful reliever.

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