Perhaps the most controversial of all Boston Red Sox decisions this offseason has been the treatment of Daniel Bard. In desperate need starters, the BoSox have decided to stretch out Daniel Bard, as if a starter, throughout Spring Training.
Granted, that's just stretching out. No one has said that he will in fact be in the rotation, and the Sox continue to search for free agent starting pitchers.
None the less, the idea of Daniel Bard starting has many fans salivating. I've seen it all over this site, as well as forums and discussion boards.
And, why shouldn't it? It's not like this is his first try at starting. Bard was originally drafted as a starter. Not too mention, he's a great pitcher. Your prototypical "flamethrower," Bard features a 97mph fastball with a devastating slider. In three MLB seasons he sports a solid 2.88 ERA and 9.73 K/9.
News flash Red Sox Nation, this move is destined to fail.
Before I win over all of your hearts, let's first look at the comparisons.
Is this an appropriate comparison? John Smoltz is one of the most decorated pitchers of his era. He has a Cy Young award, a World Series ring, a lifetime 213-155 record with a 3.33 ERA and 3,000-plus innings and strikeouts.
The only reason Smoltz ever moved to the bullpen was because of injury. After having Tommy John surgery, Smoltz was ineffective as a starter and volunteered to close. Once fully recovered, Smoltz flawlessly made the transition back to the rotation.
C.J. Wilson and Neftali Feliz
Now we come to the meat of the argument. Those who love the idea of Bard starting also love pointing to the Texas Rangers' dynamic duo.
Texas' system of converting relievers to starters has been well documented.
C.J. Wilson, who recently signed a lucrative deal with the Los Angeles Angels, started his career in 2004. In four seasons as a reliever, Wilson had a 3.65 ERA with an 8.7 K/9. Come 2010, and the Rangers decided to convert Wilson to a starter. Over his last two seasons he's gone 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA and 7.8 K/9 in 67 starts.
Despite his meteoric rise to ace-dom, Wilson has shown signs of fatigue down the stretch. In 2010 (his first season as a full time starter), he slowed in the final month of the season, going 1-3 with a 5.85 ERA in three starts. Then there's his postseason play, which has been lackluster to say the least.
Now that Wilson has signed elsewhere, the Rangers look to begin a new project. Neftali Feliz, the Rangers' closer of three seasons, will make his way into the rotation. His 2.55 ERA, and 9.1 K/9, has Texas fans excited for what can be.
Alfredo Aceves remains one of the biggest enigmas in baseball. Aceves was never a standout in the minors or a top prospect. Yet, his ability to pitch at the major league level has been a great surprise for the Boston Red Sox.
In a 2011 that was mired in pitching woe, Aceves was a standout for the Sox. His 10-2 record was astounding for a reliever, and his consistent innings were the only September positive for a struggling Boston team.
Despite his great numbers, Aceves was clearly more effective as a reliever. While in that role he amassed nine wins and a 2.03 ERA. In his four spot starts, he was 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA.
Differences Between Daniel Bard
Here's where the disappointment sets in.
The biggest difference between these cases and Bard is experience.
John Smoltz was a starter for twelve seasons before going into the pen, making his departure back into the rotation much easier.
C.J. Wilson amassed 70 starts in the minors, spanning five seasons, before full time conversion to a reliever in 2006. Despite his recent experience, Feliz goes into 2012 with 54 minor league starts of experience.
Aceves rose through the minors with 98 starts.
Meanwhile, Bard hasn't started since 2007. He made 22 starts that season.
Besides starting experience, success while starting is also a key component. Bard didn't see any of that in 2007, as he went 1-7 with a 7.08 ERA and 5.6 K/9 across three levels of the minors.
Then there's the complication of repertoire. Smoltz had his three great pitches (a fastball, slider, and go-to splitter). Feliz features his fastball-curveball punch, with secondary slider and changeup. Wilson has a vast arsenal with three plus pitches (fastball, slider, cutter) and two secondary pitches (curve and change).
Bard's fastball is legendary, we know that. Then there's his slider, which has been a great strikeout pitch. The only third pitch he's even thrown in his career is a below average changeup.
In the end, it's almost impossible to draw parallels between the recent conversion successes and Daniel Bard. Where they have had minor league rotation experience (and success), and where they have diversified repertoires, Bard is limited.
Bard is a great relief pitcher, but he is not the next Justin Verlander. He's not going to be able to hit the seventh inning and still be throwing 100mph.
He's not going to be able to be C.J. Wilson and eat up innings like fried chicken (chicken and beer jokes are still in, right?). In fact, Bard's already shown signs of inning fatigue.
Since 2010, Bard has pitched 147.2 innings, which is sixth amongst all relievers in that time. That workload has began to rear its ugly head, as Bard pitched to the tune of a 10.64 ERA last September. Now the Sox want to push him to 160-180 innings?
It is easy to point to the Texas Rangers' rotation and show the magic of reliever-starter conversion. Yet, despite their two World Series appearances, did they win either? Has pitching ever been a postseason boon for the Rangers?
The arguments seem basic, but at a deep statistical level they make all the sense in the world. I could be wrong and Bard could work out as a starter. However, with arms like Roy Oswalt on the market (low risk pitchers looking for one-year deals) why does Boston feel the need to take such a huge risk?