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 — CSNEE.com’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…
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.