If you’re a Red Sox fan; when it rains, it pours. It seems that in the past few months there has been a steady stream of bad news and questionable decisions emanating from the team offices off Yawkey Way. The most recent is the announcement that Daniel Bard has been told to prepare for a starting pitcher role in 2012 to shore up the back end of the rotation. Surely, this can’t be the best way to utilize a weapon like Bard.
The departure of free agent Jonathan Papelbon this offseason left a crater-sized hole in an already depleted Boston bullpen. When news hit that Papelbon was headed to Philadelphia, it was assumed that Bard would either take over as closer, or be the lynchpin of the bullpen as the primary set-up man. If Bard is moved out of relief, it could be a decision that the Red Sox will regret.
Bard is a very good, bordering on great reliever, who is not far away from entering his prime. He throws in the upper 90’s and has a slider, that when it is on, is a devastating pitch to hit. He was a starter in college at North Carolina, but has not started a baseball game since 2007, his first year in the minors. That season was a disaster, as Bard walked 78 batters in 75 innings, on the way to a 2.06 WHIP and 7.08 ERA.
After the debacle of his debut, the Red Sox worked diligently with Bard on his control, and turned him into a reliever in the process. He made it to the Majors in 2009, and has posted a 2.88 ERA in 192 games since then, with over a strikeout per inning.
Bard has a much greater chance of providing an impact in the bullpen instead of the rotation in 2012. If he is left as the 8th inning guy, he will once again be one of the best set-up men in baseball. If they decide to turn the 9th inning over to him, he will have to prove himself, but has the stuff to become a dominant closer. Either way, with the Red Sox already seeking relief help, having Bard stay put would be one less thing to think about.
If Bard is converted to starting, he will have to be babied throughout the season. Not having thrown more than 77.2 innings in any of his five professional seasons, he would undoubtedly be on a pitch count that would impact how long he was left in games and how many innings he would be allowed to throw for the season. When compared to his value to the bullpen, it just doesn’t seem worth it.
There is no arguing that the Red Sox need to improve their bullpen and their rotation. However, the risk they are courting by possibly moving a known commodity in Bard is a risk they don’t have to take. They may be hoping that they can strike some Justin Masterson (circa 2011) type magic, but it is a big gamble to take. The Red Sox may be minding their purse more than they have in past years, but make no mistake that there is money to be spent if needed. They are not an organization that needs to cut corners and find quick fixes, which is what this Bard experiment would likely be.
There are many things up in the air right now in Red Sox Nation. The flashes of terror and dread that crept into the lives of fans this year have appeared for the first time since 2004. Although defining the role of Daniel Bard is not going to be the biggest decision the team ends up making this upcoming season, it will be a pivotal one. As the well known saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
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