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The Bard

In case you've been in a cave or came to this post by your desire to read Merchant of Venice, here's the situation: the Sox have started the season terribly (albeit against the best teams in the league), their ace starters have sputtered, the outfield doesn't look like a champion's lineup, and mostly, their bullpen might be better off with Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi trotting in (literally).  Meanwhile, our 5th starter is a 26 year old who can hit triple digits but can also have trouble hitting the glove.  A dominant reliever who moved to the pen after walking 78 batters in his first 75 professional innings, Daniel Bard has been a dominant set up guy for 3 years and now he's being Papelboned.

With the Sox bullpen looking like Franklin Morales might be the best closer candidate -- I joked about that in the last post, I mean it this time - that's how bad it is! -- should the Sox move Bard to the pen and bring up Aaron Cook to start before he turns into a pumpkin in Pawtucket and before Dice-K returns?

No.  Not yet.

The real question here is: is this moment, on which this season might hinge, more important than the next 5-7 years for the Red Sox?

The Sox are correct that star starters are more valuable than star relievers.  This is especially true when: the starter turns 27 years old this season and he's never succeeded as a closer - a unique mental state where Doug Jones succeeds and Kyle Farnsworth only tastes success after he can't throw 100mph anymore.  Bard could be a star starter and they will only know if that's the case if they try it out.

The Sox bullpen is legitimately bad.  Papelbon is eating cheesesteaks; Andrew Bailey (incidentally from cheesesteak country) is done for most of the season; Aceves apparently can't close; and Mark Melancon ... I don't know what that is.  Morales looks to have the best arm but it's 50/50 he'll hit the catcher's glove and I love me some Scott Atchison but the Atch just is not a closer.

All that said, I still believe the Sox need to figure out the bullpen and not let that effort derail Daniel Bard's development.  That development might end up sending him back to the pen - or it might result in a dominant starter.  His ceiling is so high and they might not get another chance at this given his age, so the Sox need to let this play out a bit more.

Another thing to consider is that generally teams try not to push pitchers' innings up too sharply too quickly.  Bard's biggest innings year was 74 2/3 innings in 2010 - or 77 2/3 in 2008 in the minors.  There might be a calculation I don't know about that can determine how many innings a relief guy like that might be expected to go for this season in the best case scenario.  But my guess is the Sox will not want more than 130-150 innings this season from Bard.

To that end, my expectation has been all along that Bard would grow as a starter for the first half of the season, then he'd move to the pen in the second half as Dice-K and/or Cook take up those innings.  I still think that is the best plan.  But maybe he goes to the pen now for a month, then as things settle out, they send him to the minors for a few weeks to stetch back out then he's back in the rotation later in the season.  I don't think that's wise for his arm and I doubt they'd even follow through on moving him back, but it's possible.

Cook needs to be called up by May 1 or the Sox risk losing him.  Thus, the Sox should at least get one more start from Bard before making that change.  The other possibility is that Buchholz continues to struggle and they give him a break and bring up Cook for a few weeks then transition Bard to the pen.

In the end (of the season), Bard will be in the pen.  It is in the best interest of the team and of his arm.  But the Sox need to prepare him as best they can so he's on schedule to gun for 200 innings next year.


Anonymous said…
nice idea.. thanks for sharing.

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