I haven’t been watching baseball for very long. After all, I’m just a high school student now and I only really started regularly paying attention to the Red Sox during the World Series run in 2007. In my short time watching baseball, however, perhaps the two most dominant relief pitchers that I’ve seen pitch in a Red Sox uniform are Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard.
However, the similarities between Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard go beyond simply being a dominant reliever for the Red Sox.
Let’s take it back to 2006. Teammates at the University of North Carolina, Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard also ranked as two of the top pitching prospects in the country. That duo propelled UNC deep into the College World Series, eventually losing to Oregon State in the championship, with Miller going 13-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 9.71 K/9 and Bard going 9-4 with a 3.64 ERA and 8.35 K/9. The Tarheels’ #1 and #2 starters, respectively, Miller and Bard were both expected to be drafted early that year and many expected that both could become future frontline starters at the big league level.
On Baseball America’s list of draft prospects, Miller ranked 1st and Bard ranked 15th and both pitchers were selected in the first round on draft night; Miller was taken 6th overall by the Detroit Tigers and Bard was taken 28th overall by the Boston Red Sox.
From that point on, their careers diverged rapidly and significantly. Bard struggled with starting from the get-go, posting a combined 7.08 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Greenville and High-A Lancaster in 2007. The next season, however, Bard moved to the bullpen and the results were excellent. Bard posted a 1.51 ERA between Greenville and Double-A Portland with a 12.4 K/9 as he was able to harness his phenomenal stuff in shorter outings and flat-out dominate hitters; in Pawtucket the next year, his ERA stood at 1.12 with a remarkable 16.3 K/9 in 11 games before being promoted.
While Bard toiled in the minors for more than two seasons, however, Miller’s stint lasted all of three games. The Tigers immediately moved Miller to the bullpen and after three scoreless outings for High-A Lakeland, the 21 year old was promoted to Detroit. Miller pitched in 8 games towards the end of the season with the Tigers, posting a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 innings as he struggled with his control, walking 9 batters in that timeframe.
For a pitcher with the talent and potential of Miller, that control was deemed fixable by the Tigers’ staff and they sent him back to the minors to start the 2007 season, also moving him back to the rotation. Miller was excellent in 13 starts in a few stints between Lakeland, Double-A Erie, and Triple-A Toledo; he seemed to have largely alleviated his control problems, as he posted a combined 2.9 BB/9. In between his minor league stints, Miller made 13 starts with the Tigers that year; however, he couldn’t seem to harness his control against Major League hitters, walking 5.5 per nine innings.
That offseason, Miller was traded to the Florida Marlins as part of the mega-trade that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers. Miller spent the majority of the next two seasons in the Marlins rotation but never really established himself as the ace that he was once projected to be; he posted ERA’s of 5.87 and 4.84 and the main culprit was still his control as he walked 4.7 batters per nine innings in those two seasons. Miller made only seven starts in 2010 and at the age of 25, it was unclear if he would ever be a Major League contributor.
Meanwhile, Bard had been establishing himself as one of the best, most dominant setup men in the league as a member of the Red Sox. Bard posted an ERA of 3.65 in 49 appearances in his rookie year in 2009, striking out 11.5 per nine innings (though he did walk a concerning 4.0 per nine innings) and emerging as a force at the back end of the Boston bullpen. Bard then proceeded to have the best season of his career in 2010, as he lowered his ERA to 1.93 and looked like of the most dominant young pitchers in baseball.
In the 2010-2011 offseason, the Red Sox took a flyer and traded for Andrew Miller, hoping that he could re-acquire the form that once made him one of the best prospects in baseball. Re-united with his college teammate, the roles were completely reversed from what they once were; Bard was one of the best relievers in baseball, posting a 3.33 ERA as the Red Sox’ setup man in 2011, while Miller struggled in and out of the rotation, posting a 5.54 ERA in 17 games (12 starts).
However, 2012 was when things began to change for good. After Papelbon signed a 4 year/$50MM contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, Bard was expected to jump into the closer role for the Red Sox. However, new general manager Ben Cherington and new manager Bobby Valentine instead shifted Bard back to the rotation.
The Bard experiment did not work out nearly as well as hoped. The control issues that had plagued Bard in his last turn at starting re-surfaced and Bard posted a 6.0 BB/9 and 5.30 ERA in 10 starts before returning to the Boston bullpen that he had called home for three years. However, Bard was unable to find himself there and found himself demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after 7 horrendous appearances which saw him post a 16.20 ERA and walk 7 batters in 5 innings.
As Bard’s career began to turn for the worse, however, Miller’s began to turn for the better. In one of the few bright ideas of the disastrous 2012 season, Valentine moved Miller to the bullpen, where he had some success for the Red Sox. In 53 games (40.1 innings), he posted a 3.35 ERA with a 11.4 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9, filling the void left by Bard as a dominant, effectively-wild reliever that could be counted on for a big strikeout.
Bard’s career continued to go down the drain in the 2013 season, as he hardly even appeared in the majors and couldn’t find the strike zone at any level of the minor leagues. Meanwhile, Miller’s career was re-surfacing as he posted a 2.64 ERA to go with an incredible 14.1 K/9 rate in 37 appearances (30.2 innings pitched) before a season-ending foot injury.
Now, Bard is completely out of the Red Sox organization and currently is a member of the Texas Rangers organization but is yet to throw a pitch at any level of the minor leagues in 2014. On the other hand, Miller is in the midst of the best season of his career, as he is currently the owner of a 1.69 ERA and 12.9 K/9 along with by far the lowest walk rate of his career as Miller is only walking 2.3 per nine innings.
It’s hard to say what went wrong with Bard. At the same time, it’s hard to say what went right with Miller. It’s a shame that the Red Sox never were able to solve Bard’s issues as a bullpen featuring Bard and Miller in top form would be an intimidating sight without doubt. However, it’s still an interesting story between the two pitchers: the two highly-touted power arms out of North Carolina, with each pitcher seemingly experiencing success while the other experiences failure. You never know in baseball; perhaps Bard will figure himself out and the Red Sox will get a chance at that dream bullpen, but with the fallible nature of pitching prospects, maybe we’re lucky that even one pitcher worked out in the long run.