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Arguing with Mitch Williams I: Bard and the Boston Bullpen

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Arguing with Mitch Williams I: Bard and the Boston Bullpen
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Daniel Bard: Last night's winner, but so what?

It’s never a sign of good mental health to argue with the TV, although we all do it. I found myself in that dubious psychological state last night watching the Ol’ Wild Thing, Mitch Williams, on the MLB Network.

The first of two points he made in relationship to the Royals and Red Sox:

Williams: Daniel Bard, the official winner of last night’s game against the Twins (for throwing two-thirds of an inning at the right time) should be permanently moved to the Red Sox bullpen because “he throws 100.”

Williams averred that should Bard pitch well as a closer, it would have a salutary effect on the rest of the pen, translating to improved performance overall.

This would be a swell idea if the Sox could actually get a lead to the pen.

Last night, Jon Lester, the most talented pitcher on the staff, took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth, at which point he folded like a cheap suit. Boston’s relievers have a scary-bad 8.06 ERA, but its starters also have a 5.81 ERA, second-worst in the league to the Twins. That needs work as much as the bullpen does and is required to throw more innings.

If you’re going to pull Bard out of the rotation, that leaves a spot that has to be filled.

As I argued yesterday, veteran right-hander Aaron Cook, who has a May 1 opt-out from Pawtucket, probably isn’t an ideal solution in the AL East. But even if you add him to the rotation in place of Bard, you probably haven’t solved the problem given how poorly Clay Buchholz has pitched (I am more confident of Lester and Josh Beckett finding consistency).

Buchholz is now in his sixth major league season and has found durability and consistency in just one of them (and even then, he made just 28 starts). Given the way he’s pitched this year, that stress fracture in his back last season might have taken more out of him in a lasting sense than anyone believed at the time.

It’s one thing to say that 50 innings of Bard at the back of the bullpen will be more valuable than 150 in the rotation, even if that’s not borne out by anything like evidence. Then you have to argue that 50 innings of Bard plus 150 of Cook is going to be something the Sox can absorb.

Stack on top of that the assumptions that Buchholz will pitch at a passable level, that Lester and Beckett will be solid and that Felix Doubront will continue to pitch at a high level.

Given all of that uncertainty, it’s irresponsible to argue that the most urgent need for the Red Sox to address is closer. That spot represents 60 or 70 innings. The rotation represents 900 or 1,000.

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