Should Daniel Bard Start or Close?

Daniel Bard has not started a game since the 2007 season.

In Spring Training of 2007, the Boston Red Sox were considering moving closer Jonathan Papelbon into the starting rotation. The only problem was the Red Sox did not have suitable options at the closer position. Papelbon became the closer when he went into former manager Terry Francona’s office and said that he would like to remain as the closer of the Red Sox.

Fast forward nearly four years later and the Red Sox have another conundrum: Whether they should use Daniel Bard as a starting pitcher or a closer. Bard has stated his willingness to perform in whatever role the Red Sox choose for him.

When pitchers and catchers arrive on February 13th, Bard will most likely be stretched out and used as a starting pitcher.

Bard needs to be named the closer because he is more valuable in that role. Over the last two seasons, the Red Sox have relied on Bard to get out of many pressure situations with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. For most of the last two seasons, Bard has been one of the best relievers in the game. He had one bad month in September when went 0-4. Bard does not have the repertoire yet to be a legitimate starting pitcher. He has an electric fastball with a devastating slider, but he has yet to develop a third pitch. Bard has been working on using his changeup more, but the Red Sox already have one unknown in possibly moving Alfredo Aceves to a spot in the rotation.

The last time Bard was used as a starter, he was lacking command of his pitches in the minor leagues. When Bard pitched in the South Atlantic Division for the Greenville Drive, his walks per nine innings pitched was 8.2 with just a 5.5 K/9. When Bard was moved to the California League, he posted a 10.12 ERA and almost 15 BB/9 in a span of five starts. After the Red Sox converted him to a reliever in 2008, Bard dominated the minor leagues.

The market for closers is still strong. Philadelphia Phillies’ former closer Ryan Madsen remains without a team and the Red Sox have been in discussions to trade for Oakland A’s closer Andrew Bailey. The Red Sox just traded infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland to the Houston Astros for the Astros’ closer, Mark Melancon.

Melancon recorded 20 saves last year in 25 chances, but he is young and Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman reported that the Red Sox plan to use Melancon as a setup man.

There is a plethora of starting pitchers the Red Sox can acquire. Ben Cherington and the front office have been in discussions with the Chicago White Sox about John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Former Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent and could be a good fit with the Red Sox because he is a ground ball pitcher who has been consistent for the Dodgers. A’s starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez has been rumored to be a trade chip, but the Red Sox have balked at dealing for Gonzalez because the asking price has been too high. If that dollar figure comes down, the Red Sox need to jump on getting Gonzalez because he is talented and young at only 26 years old. He is another southpaw who is coming off two very good seasons. Gonzalez went 15-9 with a 3.23 ERA in 2010 and 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA last year.

Bard should be utilized as the closer and the front office should go after bringing in established starting pitchers to fill the back end of the rotation. These pitchers should be the type of players who will take the ball every fifth day and will give the Red Sox their best effort every time they step on the mound. Meanwhile, Bard should be handed the ball in the ninth inning.

4 comments

  • Daniel Bard is best used as a starter in 2012 and beyond, unless of course he struggles or fails, then naturally, he would be put in the pen. With his electric stuff, he will surely be a successful starter and will help anchor the rotation with Lester, Buch and Beckett.

  • I believe that Bard should be kept in the pen, where he has proven his worth ability to be effective. In that role his fastball plays up and he can let it go, reaching 98-100 mph. As a starter he would sit more in the 94-96 mph range

    One reason I do not think Bard will succeed is his low arm slot. It is lower than every other starter except Justin Masterson. Low arm slots are often a problem for starters as it gives a strong platoon split, one you may not see as a RP when not having to go threw a line up several times. Also, he is really a two pitch pitcher, with his change up rarely used and fringy. This will only add to his platoon split.

    The main reason I do not see it working is not only has it not worked in the past (largely due to command/control issues and not repeating his delivery as the game goes on), but also even as a RP he has really worn down at the end of the year each of the last two seasons. This is a slight concern as a RP that can be improved upon, but that is just at 70-80 innings. If he goes to 180-200 innings you would have to think that it would be a far worse slide.

    If you want to have him come to Spring Training as a starter to work on his change-up, get innings, and build up stamina that is great and could be a way to help him overcome the late season drop he has seen. But I think you do that with the intention of having him return to the bullpen, not actually using him as a starter.

    Ideally I would keep him in the role he is currently in. The Red Sox are one of the teams that realize that the most important and highest leverage situation is often not in the 9th inning, but the 7th or 8th. That is where you want your best RP, and that is what they have had these past couple years with the luxury of having a good Closer as well.

  • It's painfully obvious to any impartial observer that he needs to be given the closers role. You CANNOT start without at least a + third pitch in that division and expect to succeed. More to the point, he is under contract at a bargain price. Save the money. Appreciate what you have.

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