Bard Back to the Bullpen? This Could Get Ugly

Daniel Bard was supposed to be a part of the 2012 starting rotation, a rotation that featured three possible headliners (Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz), but little in terms of durability and predictability after that. After a mixed bag of starts so far this spring — the last two being rather poor —’s Sean McAdam has reported that a staff member of the team says that Bard is on his way back to the pen and that Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront will likely be named starters four and five.

In my opinion, this is not good.

Back in December, I wrote this about Bard’s potential move to the rotation…

Bard has the obvious upside of an upper 90s fastball and swing and miss slider. However, we shouldn’t expect his high octane velocity to be maintained as a starter. Then again, Even with a drop in velocity from stretching out his workload, Bard should still feature electric mid-90s heat. His slider has been a plus offering as long as he has been in the big leagues. He went with the slide piece 24.7 percent of the time last season and generated whiffs on 18.6 percent of those offerings. It is the lack of a true third pitch, his changeup, that stirs up a bit of doubt. Over the past two seasons, Bard has only used his change about 6-7 percent of the time and he barely used it at all in 2009. Last season, that pitch has saved -0.6 runs per 100 pitches (wCH/C) compared to positive results from his other two offerings; 1.47 runs saved per 100 fastballs and 2.88 runs saved per 100 sliders.

If Bard can’t improve upon his changeup, he might struggle after he goes through a lineup once or twice and to left-handed hitters overall. However, as a comp, Alexi Ogando of the Texas Rangers featured a similar profile in his move from a fireballing reliever to the rotation last season. Ogando threw mostly fastballs and sliders while throwing his changeup only about four percent of the time in 2011, but he ended up with a 3.51 ERA, 3.94 xFIP and 3.6 wins above replacement (WAR). Consider also that Ogando’s changeup has graded out even more poorly than Bard’s based on advanced statistics. However, Ogando fared much worse against left-handed batters in 2011, partly due to his lack of a changeup. One thing that could help offset Bard’s lack of a plus changeup would be if he could develop a cut or two-seam fastball, or even both. Keep an eye and ear out during spring training to see if he does indeed work on adding one of these two fastball variations.

Bard has shown a lack of control this spring, which is also something that happened late in the season last year (nine unintentional walks in 11 September innings). It’s also something that has been a part of his track record both in the minors and in the big leagues. That being said, the only way for Bard to work thorough his troubles and improve is by getting more starts in a starting role and getting himself stretched out, working on repeating his mechanics, etc.

My biggest problem with this move is that it adds a ton of downside to the back end of the rotation. That is to say that I am not at all confident in Alfredo Aceves in a starting role. In that December article, I wrote this on Aceves’s possible move to the rotation…

Unlike Bard, Alfredo Aceves doesn’t throw pure gas or have the ability to miss bats at a high rate. In fact, Aceves’ career 1.9 K/BB rate is below average and would likely worsen in a starting role. What Aceves does best is keep hitters off balance and get them to put the ball in play weakly (16.5 percent career line-drive rate against), but that means that he is very much at the mercy of his defense. Low line-drive rate or not, it is highly unlikely that Aceves is aided by a .231 BABIP like he was in 2011. Just about every advanced pitching statistic showed that Aceves’ 2.61 ERA last season was basically a mirage…

4.03 FIP
4.77 xFIP
4.13 SIERA
3.95 tERA

The same discrepancy holds true for Aceves’ career ERA vs xFIP (2.93 vs. 4.54). And let’s not look past the fact that Aceves has only thrown 240 major league innings in his career, which includes 114 last season and only nine career starts.

In other words, it would seem that there is a lot of risk in moving Aceves to the rotation and that a lot would have to work out in his favor for it to be a successful venture.

This potential move of Bard back to the bullpen makes an earlier series of events look a bit strange. The Sox made two trades this offseason with intent to acquire bullpen depth and to replace Papelbon as the team’s closer. While adding Bard to the pen would certainly create a solid 7-8-9 combo of Melancon/Bailey/Bard, it does make those trades seem odd, given this team traded away infield and outfield depth to improve the pen, but never really addressed the lack of rotation depth and essentially downgraded at shortstop.

Time will tell if Bard does indeed move to the pen and if such a move will work out for the Sox. Count me in as someone who is more than just a little skeptical.

Categories: Alfredo Aceves Boston Red Sox Daniel Bard Felix Doubront

Charlie first started writing about baseball back in 2008 when he opened Fantasy Baseball 365. Since graduating college with a degree in English, he has spent time coaching baseball as well as working in several minor league front offices. He also writes for The Outside Corner and contributes to Project Prospect and ESPN's Sweet Spot. Writer from August 3, 2010 - May 6, 2012

13 Responses to “Bard Back to the Bullpen? This Could Get Ugly” Subscribe

  1. colco March 21, 2012 at 5:39 PM #

    i disagree. 1st aceves would be a 4 starter so a mid 4 era (if u want to project by fips xfips) would b completely acceptable especially with this offense. he probably can also go a lot more innings than bard. remember a 4.7 era would still b over a run and a half better than lackey last yr. that would easily mean 2 wins and a play off spot over the rays last season

    • Charlie Saponara March 21, 2012 at 10:29 PM #

      "1st aceves would be a 4 starter so a mid 4 era (if u want to project by fips xfips) would b completely acceptable especially with this offense."

      That's what they said last year and…woops.

      I see this as a a big difference in upside. Bard has some while Aceves's numbers indicate that he is a much bigger risk.

      • colco March 22, 2012 at 6:15 AM #

        he clearly has more upside,but and i kno spring stats don't matter,but look at bards k:bb rate this spring. its almost .5. call me skeptical, but his last 2 starts were his worst and they happen to b the starts were he pitched more innings. thats not the best sign of being able to take on a heavier workload. aceves went 113 innings last yr so 160 wouldnt be nearly as much of a jump. there r much worse #4 pitchers in the mlb than aceves

        • Charlie Saponara March 22, 2012 at 12:05 PM #

          "there r much worse #4 pitchers in the mlb than aceves"

          This is true

  2. Walt in Maryland March 22, 2012 at 8:36 AM #

    Forget about the spring stats; Bard hasn't shown the repertoire he'll need to succeed in the rotation. He's simply not commanding his secondary pitches well enough.

    Howeer, I'm not entirely comfortable with Aceves and Doubront being able to hold down regular rotation spots for the full season eiither.

    My guess is that Cook will in the rotation as soon as he his physically ready. And I think the odds of the Red Sox trading for another starter, whether it's Gavin Floyd or (ugh) John Lannan, have gone up significantly.

  3. Walt in Maryland March 22, 2012 at 8:57 AM #

    Does anyone else find it strange that a "member of the Red Sox staff" is telling a scout from another organization that Bard's going back to the pen and that Aceves and Doubront will start?

    It sounds like this info was shared BEFORE the Red Sox told Bard about it, assuming they've even done that.

    Who would do that and why?

  4. Tim March 22, 2012 at 1:00 PM #

    If this occurs, it is sensible. Bard as a reliever is one of the best in baseball. Bard as a starter is projected as average to below average, projections others on the roster can probably duplicate. We would end up with a stronger pitching staff. The Sox coaching staff has watched them closely on an extended basis and I am confident they know where their pitchers can best help the team win.

  5. Walt in Maryland March 22, 2012 at 2:04 PM #

    Tim's right. And I wouldn't mind seeing Aceves join Bard in the bullpen.

  6. Christopher James Garrington March 24, 2012 at 9:27 AM #

    a guy like doubront if healthy will get better if he stays healthy, hes a guy who can control his pitches and get dudes out. no idea why we develop these guys if we dont use them, throw him in there in the fifth spot. Padilla is a proven starter and so is aaron cook. we need bard in the back end of the bullpen because bailey isnt gonna cut it. Aceves needs to do what he flourised at last year, lets not push our luck with the one pitcher that WAS out mvp last season. look what the yankees did with garcia and colon, this whole debate is stupid bard is not a starter.

  7. guest March 28, 2012 at 12:53 AM #

    Bard should hold out


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