The Daniel Bard Dilemma Facing the Red Sox


The Red Sox are playing better baseball lately and are doing so from every conceivable angle.  They are getting timely hitting, lights out relief and some solid starting pitching from all five starters.  But the way that Daniel Bard is throwing the ball has to be worrisome for manager Bobby Valentine and GM Ben Cherington and it was on full display again on Wednesday night in Baltimore.

Despite picking up the win and improving to 4-5 on the season, Bard again struggled with his control, namely his fastball.  He once again walked more batters than he struck out making it the fifth start in a row in which he’s accomplished the not-so-flattering feat.  His command is so bad that his walk ratio is 5.3/9 innings while his strikeout ratio per 9 innings is only  5.5.  Compare that to his career averages in the two departments of 3.8BB/9 and 9.0K/9 and it’s easy to spot that Bard is having his fair share of challenges as a starter.  On the season he’s walked 29 and struck out 28, hardly a flattering statistic.

Which leads to the dilemma facing the Red Sox.  What do they do with Daniel Bard?  Clearly the experiment of converting him to a starter isn’t going as planned and it further enforces the little warrant behind a wins and losses record.  Bard’s ERA is 4.69 while his WHIP 1.547, both of which are grossly inflated over his career averages of 3.23 and 1.143.

Something has happened to Daniel Bard and it is not an easy thing to try and explain.  He has not only lost control of all of his pitches at times, evidenced by consecutive walks in the Baltimore start on Wednesday where he threw 8-straight balls, but he’s also lost velocity on his fastball; a lot of it.

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe did a piece on Bard last week where he compared Bard’s fastball velocity from this year to last.  Courtesy of Pitch f/x charts at Fangraphs, Bard was averaging 97.1 mph in 2011 and is hitting an average of just 93.5 mph this season.

Bard did admit to Abraham that he expected to lose some zip on his fastball when he converted to a starter, but certainly not this much. This begs the question, should Bard be back in the bullpen to utilize his arm and strengths to their full potential?

It’s easy to sit here and say to put Bard back in the bullpen but as of right now who would take his place in the rotation?  Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s return has been pushed back and will likely require another 3-4 weeks before he’s close to being ready and Aaron Cook is likely 2-3 weeks away after his rehab stint.  Cook is just getting his stitches out now and the road to recovery is taking longer than expected.  Throw in the shaky and unpredictable outings by Clay Buchholz and suddenly Bard’s services are needed for the foreseeable future.

News now comes out of Buster Olney’s camp that Roy Oswalt is expected to sign with the Texas Rangers making any addition to the rotation likely to come either via trade or an internal promotion.  Both are intriguing when you consider the Kevin Youkilis situation but it’s unlikely he’ll warrant a fourth or fifth starter in return.

Internal candidates would include Brandon Duckworth and Justin Germano, both who have been impressive in triple-A Pawtucket.  An intriguing option when you consider they can’t be much worse than Clay Buchholz.

At least for now it appears as though the Red Sox will give Daniel Bard every opportunity to try and sort through his command issues and will do so as a starter.  But if he continues to issue free passes like they’re going out of style, how long do they wait?  Early July could prompt a trade that would relieve Bard as a starter and put him in the pen.  Both Cook and Dice-K should be ready at that point and who knows what Buchholz will be doing at that point.

Regardless of what happens, it’s clear the Bard conversion isn’t working out the way the Red Sox or Bard had intended.  It may be time to fish or cut bait with this little experiment as the ball club is rolling along and the last thing they need is a stumbling block taking the mound every fifth day.