March 22, 2012

Are Red Sox Panicking With Daniel Bard?

Could the Red Sox be pulling the plug on the Bard-as-starter experiment after the fireballing righty had one mediocre start in an exhibition game against the winningest team in spring training?

That type of knee-jerk Steinbrennerian panic is the polar opposite of the calm, rational approach of the front office we know and love (and trust), but CSNNE's Sean McAdam reports:
One Red Sox staff member has told others outside the organization that, when all is said and done, Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront will have spots in the rotation, with Daniel Bard returning to the bullpen.

It had been assumed that Bard would be given every opportunity to nail down the No. 4 spot. But after two sharp, shorter outings earlier in the Grapefruit League schedule, Bard has struggled over his last two outings, walking seven hitters and allowing 10 hits in 7.2 innings.
Jon Heyman may not know this, but I'm sure McAdam does. One of those two rough outings was in relief (and interrupted by a rain delay). Hardly a representative sample on which to base such an important decision.

And whereas Bard went 5-3-3-3-2 in his start on Tuesday - bad enough to supposedly send him back to the bullpen, Jon Lester put up a 3-8-4-2-1 line yesterday against the mighty Pirates and that showing was deemed a "good outing" (despite the results) by the Globe.

McAdam mentioned Bard's other two starts:
March 6: vs Bal - 2-0-0-1-2
March 10: vs TB - 3-2-0-2-1
which, if this recent report is true, apparently count for nothing. In his three starts this month, Bard has a 2.70 ERA and a 1.1 WHIP (10-5-3-6-5). The walks are high, for sure, but the hits are very low. (By the way, Lester, who will get the ball on Opening Day, has walked five men in 11 innings this spring).

On Tuesday night, about an hour after Bard had expressed satisfaction that he had taken a step forward, [Bobby] Valentine, in his post-game remarks, did seemingly everything he could to question Bard's suitability for the rotation.
If this story is true, Bard will not be pleased - and who can blame him? He has not thrown one pitch against an actual major league lineup as a starter and Valentine may have already decided he can't handle it.

Valentine questioned Bard throwing only one changeup among his 83 pitches on Tuesday, but Bard quickly explained what was going on and that he had discussed it with pitching coach Bob McClure.
I have a changeup I'm comfortable with. ... I've sat down and talked with [McClure] about it. I had thrown 12-13 the outing before, but at some point I have to start getting some outs and stop experimenting because that would have been 20-25 percent changeups. I'm not going to throw that many in the game, it's just not how it's going to be. I'm going to be about 10 percent changeups. I want that surprise factor, where if it's one of 10 pitches it makes it that much more effective. ... If I'm not throwing my fastball or my slider in big spots, even in spring training, how am I going to go into the season with confidence in those pitches. That's the way I see it.
(I read a fair amount of annoyance between the lines in Bard's explanation.) Bard threw his changeup 7.6% of the time last year, and 6.4% in 2010.

If Valentine has a question about what one of his pitchers is doing, maybe he should simply ask his pitching coach about it - using his "inside (the clubhouse) voice" - rather than idly speculating to the media.

John Tomase, Herald:
If the Sox pull the plug on Bard's nascent starting career, the team would open itself up to some fair criticism over the evaluation window, especially considering that one of his two poor outings came after a rain delay, while the other consisted mainly of a bad inning.
In addition, Valentine seems willing to hand the starting shortstop job to Jose Iglesias, although the front office (wisely, in my opinion) wants Iggy to start the season in AAA. Valentine says Iglesias can play in the majors now, but would not come out and say he wants him as his Opening Day shortstop.
I think his ability is good enough. Whether it's his time is the question, with all the other contributing factors. ... His ability is all I'm saying. ... I think he can hit and field at the major league level. I don't know that he can make this major league team and perform right now in this setting, in the group that we have.
Iglesias is batting .235 this spring (4-for-17) with a meager .278 OBP.

How these two situations are resolved will go a long way in telling us how much influence Valentine has with the front office. (And considering how spot-on Nick Cafardo was with the managerial search, and how much he has been pushing in the past week or two for Iglesias to begin the year in Boston, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on what he writes. He seems to have a direct pipeline to Valentine.)

Opening Day is two weeks away.


FenFan said...

I just looked on the site and found that spring training statistics are available going back to 2006.

With that knowledge, it would be interesting to compare spring training results to regular season results year-to-year. (Note that someone with far more time than me needs to do the research. does not have this data but they do now offer Negro League statistics!)

As a comparison, it would also be interesting to see over that same period how Bill James' pre-season prognastications compare to the final results.

Pokerwolf said...

Apparently, the differences between Tito running things and Valentine doing the job are going to show up now instead of later. If Valentine already knew he didn't want Bard to start, why bother with giving him the opportunity?

Section 36 said...

I never thought the Sox were going to start Bard. From the beginning they were making comments like "We'll assume he'll start, but he can always go back to the pen if it doesn't work." There was never the full "rotation or bust" idea pushed out. Then they signed a million more starters in the offseason than people who would replace Bard. I think the Sox always wanted to keep him where he was, but wanted to pretend to convert him so they could tell him they tried. All they needed was one outing that would give them a reason.

eric said...

i think there was a valid opportunity for bard to obtain a starting role. it's definitely possible that it was overstated, especially in light of these comments... but i do think BV wanted to see what else he had on his hands for possible starters. the more confident he feels that he can find a viable option other than bard to start (and also in light of the somewhat encouraging progress of daisuke) BV probably feels more keen to keep bard where he has proven himself to be incredibly effective.

kind of reminds me of that whole rumsfeld bit about "known knowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns".

Zenslinger said...

Well, now Aceves has had a horrendous outing as a starter (3IP, 9ER, 3HR). So we can stop worrying.