The Daniel Bard experiment might be over. After the right-hander posted a bloated 7.11 ERA in just 12.2 innings this spring as a starter, the Boston Red Sox reportedly are considering returning Bard to the bullpen. While Boston had big plans for the 26-year-old — the team traded for relievers Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon this past offseason — the move back to the ‘pen shouldn’t be seen as a failure.
It’s important not to take Spring Training results too seriously, but for a player like Bard, they actually did matter. As a starter, there was a good chance Bard would be much more valuable to the Red Sox. Though he had a history of control issues — his first year in Boston saw him post an ugly 4.01 BB/9 rate in nearly 50 innings — Bard appeared to have begun shaking off those problems and had become a reliably dominant arm for the team. Then spring came around, and Bard walked 10 batters — twice as many as any other Sox pitcher.
But, hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, Bard has been one of the majors’ better relievers and owns 3.4 WAR in that role during the past two seasons. Plus, now he’s going to join both Bailey and Melancon, which should make Boston’s bullpen among baseball’s strongest.
Take a look at this:
That’s a formidable bullpen back-end. If the Red Sox can make it to through the sixth inning with a lead, this trio should be able to secure a lot of wins.
But with Bard returning to his old role, the Red Sox rotation remains a problem. Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront seem to be the most likely fourth and fifth starters at this point — with Aaron Cook potentially playing a role as well. The problem is, it’s tough to know exactly how effective Aceves and Doubront will be.
Neither Aceves nor Doubront were projected as full-time starters, which means we need to take these projections with a grain of salt. Aaron Cook is the only known quantity of the three, but his results have been less than impressive. While the trio seems a bit underwhelming, it’s tough to claim that Bard would have been a better choice. In 2007, Bard’s last year as a starter, he walked 78 batters and struck out out only 47 across two minor-league levels.
Even if Bard had survived Spring Training as a starter, there were questions whether his repertoire would translate to the rotation. Just recently, Bobby Valentine had been frustrated that Bard hadn’t thrown more change-ups this spring. Bard used the change 7.4% of the time last season, but the pitch rated poorly when it came to pitch types. While some pitchers can get away with just two pitches, Bard probably should have worked on the extra pitch a bit more this spring.
So, basically, the Red Sox rotation is about the same as it was at the end of last year: a weak spot. But perhaps there’s little that Bard could have done to help the situation in the first place. Until Daisuke Matsuzaka returns from Tommy John surgery later this summer, Boston will rely a couple of unknowns — something that wouldn’t have changed had Bard remained in a starting role. But with Bard’s move back to the bullpen, the Red Sox at least know what they’ll be getting.