Byrd, Bard and Lars: Red Sox Make Changes

After the Red Sox September collapse last season, everyone on Yawkey Way was looking for a fresh start to the season. But between injuries to Andrew Bailey, Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Kevin Youkilis commitment drama, the seeming indecision over what to do with Daniel Bard, and oh, the continuing and humiliating implosion of the Boston bullpen, the start to the season has been anything but fresh. Still, the team is showing little outward panic, as they are trying to weather the storm with low-key moves.

The team had tried to paper over the lack of outfield depth with Jason Repko, but he injured himself quite quickly, as he crashed into the Green Monster following a great catch on Friday against the Yankees. And with Che-Hsuan Lin needing regular reps and Ryan Kalish still not ready to return, the team was left without a good internal option, and reached out to grab Marlon Byrd from the Chicago Cubs. Chicago fans immediately took to the interwebs to happily wave goodbye to Byrd, who has had a dismal start to the season — his -58 wRC+ is the worst in the Majors among those who have accumulated at least 40 plate appearances.

It is a strange turn of events that Byrd would end up on the Sox, since it was Alfredo Aceves who turned his lights out — quite literally — with a beanball to the face last May. At the time, Byrd was hitting .308/.346/.419, but after missing more than a month with facial fractures as a result of that HBP, Byrd struggled, hitting just .255/.311/.380 the rest of the way. He is now far removed from the injury, but this season has been even less kind to the 34-year-old. While it is far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, Byrd is making less contact than he has in any season since his rookie year, and when he does make contact, he is hitting the ball on the ground the majority of the time. If that trend sticks, it would put him in rare company. In the past decade, only four players have had seasons with a GB/FB higher than the 3.17 that Byrd is currently sporting — Luis Castillo (four times), Derek Jeter (three), Ichiro Suzuki and Skip Schumaker. In other words, it probably won’t stick. While Byrd hit more grounders during his time in Chicago than he did previously, his GB/FB was in the 1.7 range in both of his seasons on the North Side. Chances are high that this is just an early-season funk.

That’s exactly what the Red Sox will hope for. Byrd can usually be counted on for league-average offense, but even if he doesn’t, he should be an upgrade for the Sox on defense alone until Ellsbury returns. Cody Ross can be a decent defender, but on Saturday he was eaten alive by Fenway’s center field, and may be better off in left. Acquiring Byrd not only allows that to happen, but also moves Darnell McDonald back into a utility role, where he also has more value.

The team also called up Lars Anderson to help fill the bench void. In an interesting turn of events, the team labeled him a left fielder on its transactions page. That is not something that many would have projected at the end of 2008, after Anderson had wrecked Double-A pitching to the tune of a .430 wOBA at the tender age of 20. But his power never translated past Portland, and the once stud first-base prospect has turned 4A warrior. As such, he has begun adding the outfield to his resume in hopes of becoming more attractive to both the Red Sox, as well as the other 29 teams to whom he may soon need to market his services, but he has thus far only played four games in the outfield at Pawtucket. With Byrd now in the fold, it’s unlikely that Anderson will be making too many starts, if any at all. Still, the hope is that he catches a little of the Daniel Nava/Josh Reddick lightning in a bottle on his journey north on the Pawtucket Shuttle.

That brings us to Daniel Bard. A lot of metaphorical ink has been spilled debating whether or not Bard should be a starter or a reliever, and Sunday’s rain out provided the latest twist in the soap opera. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is using the postponement to skip Bard’s turn in the rotation. This makes perfect sense. Bard has never thrown 80 innings in a season as a professional, and it stands to reason that a few skipped starts here and there will help keep him fresh. In fact, it’s likely one of the reasons that the team slotted him in the fifth spot in the rotation, as that is the spot that can be skipped most frequently. But doing so is a delicate act. You don’t want Bard going so long between outings that he gets blasted his next time out. To that end, Valentine announced that Bard would be available out of the bullpen during Boston’s series in Minnesota this week. This also makes perfect sense. If he is not needed, he can simply get his work in in the bullpen. But if the situation warrants it, he can contribute during the games.

Where things get murky is where Valentine admitted that there was “some thought” to permanently returning Bard to the bullpen. As I noted last week, Bard has shown promise in his first two turns in the rotation, and has done nothing to deserve to be dropped from it. Furthermore, adding Bard to the bullpen isn’t going to be a magic elixir that cures everything, and having one of your better pitchers throw less innings over the course of the season weakens the pitching staff overall. But while such a proposition has been discussed, it has not yet been enacted. Valentine has said numerous times this spring that he has given thought to putting Bard back in the ‘pen, and at each turn he has kept him in the rotation, and three good starts in Pawtucket from Aaron Cook are unlikely to change that.

As I scroll through my Twitter feed, one thing that I keep reading about is who should be blamed for the team’s slow start. I’m not here to assign blame. In the big picture, the Red Sox went 4-10 against what are likely five of the seven best teams in the American League. There is little shame in that, even if the way in which the losses have come have raised the ire of Red Sox Nation and the snickering of the collective baseball nation. And while Valentine is able to work the media into a lather with just a few words, the team doesn’t seem to be panicking amidst the turmoil. They acquired Marlon Byrd on the cheap, and have called up Lars Anderson for one more shot at realizing his Red Sox dreams off the bench. Should Daniel Bard be permanently relegated to bullpen savior, the gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments may come to a simmering — and justified — boil. But that time has not yet come.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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PJC
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PJC
4 years 5 months ago

Good stuff, Paul. (Although I have to nit-pick and point out it should read “…having one of your better pitchers throw fewer innings over the course of the season….) I thought the Sweeney/Ross platoon plan sounded great in the offseason, but that’s now been blown to bits.

The Red Sox will probably go on a win streak sometime soon and everyone will calm down for a while. But Bobby V.’s game is a little off these days when it comes to stirring up controversy.

Jonathan
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Jonathan
4 years 5 months ago

“I thought the Sweeney/Ross platoon plan sounded great in the offseason, but that’s now been blown to bits.”

Via injury alone. Until Ellsbury got hurt, the plan was looking pretty brilliant. The plan is still a sound one.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
4 years 5 months ago

Jonathan, I think you’re setting the bar way too low for ‘brilliant’.

ed
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ed
4 years 5 months ago

Well, the bar for “blown to bits’ seems to be even lower. There are plenty of things wrong with the Red Sox, but Ross/Sweeney is one of the few that’s working.

Jonathan
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Jonathan
4 years 5 months ago

“In the big picture, the Red Sox went 4-10 against what are likely five of the seven best teams in the American League. ”

This is a big thing lost in all of the talk out there. Yeah, there’s been boatloads of drama, but really, it was an epicly tough stretch. The softest team the Sox have faced thus far was the Blue Jays and that included losing to Ricky Romero on a getaway day. If they were getting battered around by the dregs of the AL, that’d be one thing, but take a team that historically starts out slow and throw them out of the gate where they face all four of last year’s playoff teams in their first five series and there may be trouble.

They’ve got a stretch of something like 22 games against teams that finished under .500 last year. If they crap the bed for that stretch, I’ll start panicking, for now, it just looks like last April all over again (Where we got steamrolled by a handful of teams that looked like early playoff favorites at the time).

legaryd
Member
legaryd
4 years 5 months ago

It’s all dramatics man and sports writers trying to get a story.

A headline of “Red Sox Performing Adequately According to Their Strength of Schedule” just doesn’t have the same ring as “PANIC IN BOSTON!”

Will
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Will
4 years 5 months ago

The Red Sox playing .286 ball against ANYONE whether its the 1927 Yankees or the 2001 Mariners is still terrible and not even close to “performing adequately”.

vivalajeter
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vivalajeter
4 years 5 months ago

I’m with Will. If you consider yourself to be a contender, 4-10 is terrible regardless of your competition. Even if your schedule is “epicly tough”.

SKob
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

As a Sox fan I agree 4-10 is not acceptable no matter who the competition is, plus it’s been ugly! But after being swept by Cleveland to go 0-6 to start last season, this doesn’t feel that bad!

Derp
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Derp
4 years 5 months ago

SSS………………………

Cito Gaston
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Cito Gaston
4 years 5 months ago

According to Bill Lee, Valentine has already lost the clubhouse, and now all of the different factions inside the clubhouse are going to implode. Case in point, Bard is reluctantly making a return to the bullpen. Sure he’ll do it, but as Bard said, do not to expect him to make the 8 other guys pitch better. I am sure the bullpen got real warm and fuzzy when they heard that comment.

Now they are calling up overrated prospects due to the lack of warm bodies to patrol the outfield.

Sorry folks, unless there is a big move, there isn’t a whole lot that is going change the trajectory of this club. It needs a complete overhaul which is not possible in mid-season.

Get used to fourth place. Good chance that the Sox can beat the Orioles this year.

RC
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RC
4 years 5 months ago

“It needs a complete overhaul which is not possible in mid-season.”

No, it really doesn’t. It needs its two 5+ WAR OF’ers to get healthy. It needs the two best pitchers in their bullpen to figure their shit out. It needs Kevin Youkilis to not be a .500 OPS guy. It needs Adrian Gonzalez to not be a .700 OPS guy.

This isn’t a bad team. Its a very good one, that has a whole bunch of shit happening at the same time.

B N
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B N
4 years 5 months ago

It’s not a bad team, but it is definitely a bad bullpen. The best guys in the bullpen as it stands are projected for an ERA maybe a shade under 4. To be honest, the majority of the bullpen was weak last year too but the Red Sox were hitting so well it wasn’t as obvious. Now that they’re a bit weaker with the stick, we’re seeing the fact that there are really no stoppers in the bunch.

Will
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Will
4 years 5 months ago

Do we have any idea of who the PTBNL was in the Byrd deal. I’m not sure you can make any judgements until that’s known. It could be a throw-away or it could be one of their draft picks from 2011, who cannot be traded for a few more months. In that case, it might not be such a great deal for the Sox.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
4 years 5 months ago

Injuries aside, the Sox have weaknesses at catcher and defensively on the left side of the infield. No bullpen in history could stand up to Detroit, Texas or the Yankees. What’s really gone wrong is that the starters just aren’t that good – there’e really no reason to think that they’ll pitch well enough for enough innings to make the Sox contenders to win the division, the pennant or the Series,

Preston
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Preston
4 years 5 months ago

Doubront threw six scoreless and the offense scored nine runs. The bullpen was a little to blame for at least that loss.

ed
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ed
4 years 5 months ago

For their latest work of failure, the Red Sox bullpen gets full credit, but the starters are pitching terribly.

Fortunately, there’s in fact every reason to think the starters will pitch better. Unless you think Jon Lester is really a 5.82 ERA pitcher.

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 5 months ago
Chike
Member
Chike
4 years 5 months ago

I understand Bard has more value as a starter than a reliever, but that argument has to end somewhere. Should all teams with young elite relievers try pushing them to the rotation based on value? Where will it end? There’s something to be said for a team that can confidently turn to the bullpen after seven innings knowing the game is likely well in hand.

Atlanta is a great example. Kimbrel and Venters are two of the most talented young pitchers in baseball. It would be foolish of the Braves to try and convert one (or both) of them into starting pitchers.

While the Braves certainly have more starting pitching depth than the Red Sox, it’s closer than people think. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz and Doubront are the 1-4, but for that fifth spot you have Padilla, Cook, and Matsuzaka as short term options. There’s also free agency, trades AND whatever the Sox have in the minors.

Finally, from Bard’s POV, there’s money to be made as a reliever. Papelbon and Bell commanded millions in the offseason and there’s no reason to believe Bard couldn’t ask for that kind of cash if he developed into a reliable reliever.

NBarnes
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NBarnes
4 years 5 months ago

Not all pitchers convert to and from the bullpen equally. There are skills that a pitcher needs in order to start. Any pitcher with those skills should be given every chance to start. Mariano Rivera has the same annual WAR as a league average starter.

Chike
Member
Chike
4 years 5 months ago

@NBarnes: There are very few instances where a major league reliever hasn’t displayed the skill set necessary to start at some point or another. I would argue the decision to start or relieve is one made largely by executives and talent evaluators. Even if a player doesn’t have the number of quality pitches or the stamina to start, teams can work with that player to develop whatever they see as lacking should they need him in the rotation. Alexi Ogando is a good example of this.

@Ian R.: I’ll go back to the Braves example. Would it be in the Braves’ best interest to try Venters and Kimbrel as starters? Since starters are so difficult to find, those two should be given every opportunity to start, right? I don’t believe that there is some unique skill set that starters have and relievers don’t. Alexei Ogando has proven that false. Starter/reliever decisions are decided by scouts and executives.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
4 years 5 months ago

“Should all teams with young elite relievers try pushing them to the rotation based on value?”

Pretty much, yeah. Unless that reliever has a skill set that clearly wouldn’t work in the rotation (only 1-2 pitches, injury/endurance issues), there’s really no reason to not try them as starters. If Bard fails as a starter, the Sox can put him back in the bullpen. Even if he blows out his arm as a starter, it’s not THAT hard to go out and get an elite reliever. The upside here clearly outweighs the risk.

Baldacci
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Baldacci
4 years 5 months ago

What are you talking about with kimbrel and such? Bard was a starter who got turned into a successful reliever a la neftali feliz. (of course his starts in single A were awful) If they knew the bullpen would be injured and horrific they may have waited one more year to get bard back to starting like they did with feliz, but it’s hard to argue bard should be in the bullpen now when he’s one of the sox’s better starters.

There’s way more money and years to be made starting from ards POV. They let papelbon go because a 4 yr contract for that money doesn’t fit into the game plan. I didn’t trust him as a high payed closer. Don’t forget he blew the save in game 162. Regardless they thought they had two closer options with melancon and bailey. Crap happens.

RC
Guest
RC
4 years 5 months ago

“(of course his starts in single A were awful”

The team tried to rebuild his delivery in A. It didn’t work. When he started relieving, they went back to the old mechanics.

There are plenty of articles on it. He couldn’t hit the plate at all with the new mechanics.

Sam Samson
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Sam Samson
4 years 5 months ago

That’s always assuming the team has a starter than can get them to the seventh inning with a lead. Right now, Bard is considered one of the five most likely pitchers to achieve that. Moving him to the bullpen to preserve leads that the other pitchers can’t get to the seventh inning with seems ill-considered.

Simon
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Simon
4 years 5 months ago

Once you have a full and competent rotation, with suitable back-up plans for the inevitable injuries?

Erik Archer
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

One would think that the entire reason they let Papelbon move on was that they had Bard as a solid bullpen piece.

fenwik
Member
fenwik
4 years 5 months ago

Letting Papelbon walk probably had much more to do with $50mil contract he got then whoever else was in the ‘pen.

Pastry Chef
Member
Member
Pastry Chef
4 years 5 months ago

The Red Sox just won a game where Cody Ross hit 2 home runs off righties. Also Ortiz has found the fountain of youth. They can’t complain.

vhailorx
Member
vhailorx
4 years 5 months ago

Is it really fair to say that Byrd for Bowden and PTBNL is ‘on the cheap’

I think bowden actually had a shot to be a decent reliever (which is something the red sox really need). Walk rates are higher than one would like and he wasn’t likely to be elite at all, but he’s got some value.

Also, we have no idea who the PTBNL is.

Seems like the red sox gave up decent talent in exchange for the Cubs picking up some of Byrd’s contract when they should have gone somewhere else and leveraged their financial strength by picking up a contract from a smaller market team.

pft
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pft
4 years 5 months ago

The PTBNL is a pitcher on the DL, either Miller or Carpenter.

pft
Guest
pft
4 years 5 months ago

Sweeney and Ross have been 2 of the teams best hitters. I hope Crawford takes his sweet time back.

Aceves has 1 more blown save than Rivera.

Bobby V needs to handle the bullpen better and figure out pitchers roles. They have some good arms, but he has done some dumb things (eg. letting J Thomas face RHB’ers with men on base in close games, staying too long with reliever or starters when it is clear they are tiring or just don’t have it-Bard/Morales).

Not all his fault, but ST is for determining who your best relievers are and then using them properly when the season starts, He was so focused on figuring out who won the 4th and 5th spots he lost sight of the pen. Bailey’s injury was no surprised with his history, even if the nature of the injury was bad luck. but Bobby V acted shocked and seemed to have no plan for that foreseeable event.

Also, looking at the splits between Salty and Shoppach, the pitching is performing much, much worse (eg 23 of 27 HR allowed with Salty catching, and pitchers ERA 3 runs higher) with Salty. So something else besides bad pitching might be at play.

Sam Samson
Guest
Sam Samson
4 years 5 months ago

If I remember correctly, Francona has said that the early part of the season is for working out what you have, in terms of players’ abilities and temperament. He, at least, didn’t think you could figure everything out in spring training.

I agree Valentine has made some frustrating mistakes, but I don’t think many of his decisions have been completely unreasonable when he has made them; one or two, perhaps, but mostly they just haven’t worked out. If he had had better bullpen options to go to I think he’d be looking a lot smarter right now.

ed
Guest
ed
4 years 5 months ago

but Bobby V acted shocked and seemed to have no plan for that foreseeable event.

What plan did he need to have? Everyone just moved up a level. What other plan is there?

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 5 months ago

Ortiz: 59ab, 1.155ops
Sweeney: 45ab, 1.051ops
Ross: 53ab, .973ops
Pedroia: 61ab, .840ops
Aviles: 55ab, .782ops
Salty: 38ab, .749ops / Shoppach: 16ab, 1.149ops

Doubront: 16.0ip, 3.94era

nothing is going right for the unlucky red sox.

Fox Mulder
Guest
Fox Mulder
4 years 5 months ago

That’s it, you’ve almost uncovered the whole conspiracy! Just dig a little deeper. The truth is out there!

everdiso
Member
everdiso
4 years 5 months ago

The emperor has no clothes!

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