A Case for Daniel Bard
By Brian Phair
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, it was obvious that Jonathan Papelbon was playing his last season in a Red Sox uniform. His contract was up at the end of this year and he was going to command a significant amount of interest and money on the open market. Due to that fact, Daniel Bard was being even more carefully groomed as Pap’s successor. He had a lot of support from fans and had a successful year, but down the stretch and once the offseason began, Bard supporters began to disappear. Now the inevitable has occurred and Pap is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, there is hardly any support for the heir to the thrown as Ben Cherington and his team search externally for closer candidates.
Let me start by saying due diligence is pivotal as a GM, so exploring options is not generally a bad thing. Seeing what arms are available is critical to the team’s continued growth, even if Bard will ultmately fill that role. That aside, if you really believe in Bard and have been grooming him for his chance to be the 9th inning guy, isn’t now the perfect opportunity to let him shine. If Cherington thinks Bard is the answer and can at least be a serviceable closer, why is focusing his time on Francisco Cordero and not trying to address the other needs of the team first? This is Bard’s time to step up and prove he is not still “the closer of the future”, but the closer for 2012 and beyond.
Over the past few years, Bard has had his ups and downs, not unlike most young pitchers trying to settle into the major league routine. He has been overworked due to a lack of other strong setup/middle relief men on the roster the past few years and has done everything he can to earn his chance on the big stage. He posted a 1.93 ERA in 2010 in 73 games (74.2 innings), numbers that rival any reliever in baseball. His 2011 ERA wasn’t as strong (3.33), but he proved to the organization that he could pitch in 70+ games 2 years in a row, which is an asset. Also, digging deeper into his stats, his hits/9 innings was a strong 5.7 and he posted a career best in both HR/9 innings (0.6) and BB/9 innings (3.0). Those stats show continued signs of growth and improvement. His career K to BB ratio is 2.8 to 1 and has remained steady for 3 years, which is exactly what you want out of a closer.
Bard has matured as a pitcher and a person in his time at the major league level and he deserves a shot. No one knows if he will be an elite closer in the future, but if you never give him the opportunity to prove himself, you will never find out.
Bard’s critics focus on his stretches of games the past few years where he just can’t seem to find his arm slot and struggles to get guys out. That is a valid concern, but being a 8th inning setup man is extraordinarily different than being the 9th inning guy. The pressure is different and the goal is different. As an 8th inning pitcher, you are focused on just holding the lead for the closer to finish off. It is all about bridging a gap and getting to another person to finish as opposed to a closer’s mindset, which is focused on getting 3 outs and ending the game. It is more pressure, but also sometimes easier to be motivated to elevate your game, because you are the last line of defense. As a setup man, if you screw up, your team has another shot at coming back and taking the lead, as a closer that is usually not the case.
If Bard becomes the closer, expectations need to be realistic in the beginning until the adjustment to that role has fully taken place. The road will most certainly be a bit rocky at times, but the Red Sox have devoted so much time to develop him already, why not give him the ultimate chance in the 9th inning on a consistent basis to at least see what they have in this guy.
It is now or never for Daniel Bard with the Red Sox. Either you throw him into the fire and learn what he is made of, or you shy away from all the past chatter about him being the guy of the future and under-utilize him as a setup man. Does Cherington really believe in the guy he has helped to develop since 2009? We shall see.
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