I know we have spoken about Daniel Bard a few times this offseason, but while reviewing projections I found one off the charts and had to look twice. The projection system was OLIVER and is a pay required system at HardballTimes.com/Forecasts. (As a THT writer I highly recommend buying this) The system projects a huge year for Bard in 160 innings as a starter, but in the comments the system seems to base a lot of that on a comparison to Alexi Ogando. This is something I had thought about before, but hadn’t taken a real look at.
A lot of the doubt surrounding Bard comes from his time spent at A Ball and High A Ball in 2007, the last time he started a game, but this was only 75 innings all at 21 years old. Ogando on the other hand had only totaled three games started before making the majors. This gave the transition less historical comparison and less doubt about ability as a starter. Is it fair to judge Bard as largely different than Ogando based on such a small data set at a young age?
Once on even footing at Double A these two players have quite a few similarities. Bard had a strikeout rate of 11.6 at Double-A and 16.3 in a very short stint at Triple-A. Ogando spent a total of 30 innings in the minors and averaged a 12.3 between Double-A and Triple-A. Combine that with both pitchers walking more than three batters every nine innings and you can see these guys as high swing and miss guys with control issues. Seemingly perfect for high pressure late game situations.
Ogando spent his first season in the majors in relief and saw a solid drop in his strikeouts to 8.42 every nine innings. This didn’t happen in Bard’s first season as he struck out 11.5 per nine, but in the following two years he averaged 9.1 K/9. In three years Bard appears to have maintained his strikeout rate better than Ogando while both continued to walk more than three batters every nine innings.
This is where we have to say how these two similar relievers will compare if Bard follows Ogando to the rotation. When Ogando moved to the rotation he again saw his strikeout rate drop to 6.7, but he was able to control his pitches more and only walked 2.3 batters every nine innings. Seems fairly obvious that while relievers won’t be striking out as many hitters they should have better control. This increase in control stems from a drop in pitch velocity for the sake of swing and miss chances.
In regards to pitch velocity Ogando had a fastball of 96 mph and a slider of 82. He also mixed in an 87 mph changeup, but this was less than five percent of his pitches. After moving to starter he dropped about 1 mph from each pitch, but kept a similar pitch selection of two primary pitches. This has been the question most facing Bard in regards to primarily throwing only two solid pitches.
Bard has thrown a 97 mph fastball and an 84 mph slider as a reliever. His changeup has seen more use over the past three seasons, but is average at best and currently 90 mph. With a bit more velocity it would seem Bard has more room to transition to starter and the big question is can he gain control and throw less walks when he makes the switch.
Something Bard has that Ogando does not is a much better groundball rate. In three seasons his ground ball percentage has averaged 48 percent. Ogando had a 43 percent rate as a reliever, but saw a drop when moved to the rotation and had a 36 percent rate. Is this an effect of moving to the rotation as well? I can’t say why this would happen, but perhaps his pitches moving a bit slower resulted in less downward movement and more fly balls resulted. Again Bard has a better starting point than Ogando and should see better results even in a starting role.
The projections don’t yet see trouble for Bard and OLIVER might be the most optimistic with an ERA of 3.10 and 4.3 WAR. I still feel odd reading that and have to temper my expectations, but Ogando has a positive effect on what we can expect from Bard this year. Even a rough start might not get him sent to the pen as the team seem to be commited to this idea and Bard wants this chance. It would seem they would have to be thorough in his opportunity and we shall see how things turn out, but how good could the Red Sox be with their own Alexi Ogando.