When Jonathan Papelbon walked away from the Red Sox to sign his lucrative contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the assumption was that Daniel Bard would inherit the closer role. Now it seems that Daniel Bard has long desired to be a starting pitcher and the Red Sox are considering the option. A few years ago, this writer would scoff at such a notion. But the last two years, the Texas Rangers have showed that it can be done as C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando have successfully made the switch. That muddies the water for this observer and it's pretty hard to be so obtuse about such a move.
Is there any reason to think that Daniel Bard can do this? He hasn't started since 2007 in the Red Sox minor league system. And to be frank, he wasn't very good at it. He made 22 starts for the Red Sox in 2007 covering two different levels and the numbers were frightening. He struck out batters at a 5.6 K/9 rate and walked 9.4 per nine. He also gave up over nine hits per nine innings and had a WHIP over two. It wasn't until 2008 after the Red Sox converted him to a relief pitcher that Bard's stock began to rise. He took to the bullpen and suddenly he was fabulous. Despite some struggles in the second half last year, Bard has repeated that success over three years with the Red Sox.
Bard does have three pitches in his arsenal. Both his fastball and his slider are superb and have ranked highly since he hit the majors. His third pitch is a change up which he throws about seven percent of the time. The pitch has never risen into the positive numbers in pitch value according to Fangraphs. So he has two plus pitches and one not so plus. You would have to think that he would not be able to maintain his 97 MPH fastball average as a starter. But if he can maintain 93 to 95, that would be more than acceptable.
Bard does well at inducing ground balls. He has a career ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.39. With an excellent infield behind him in Boston, that would work well for him. His hits per nine innings are excellent, but again, that's throwing gas in a short spurt for three batters during most outings. How that translates over six or seven innings is the big question.
The Red Sox do not have much for blow-them-away starting pitching talent below their major league club and Bard has proven to be a very good arm. It's easier to rebuild a bullpen than it is to find good rotation starters. So the thought makes sense for the Red Sox. It certainly makes sense for Bard as a good starting pitcher can make a heck of a lot more money than a good relief pitcher can (though absurdly, the gap is narrowing). And again, the Rangers have showed that such a conversion can work. Just color this Fan skeptical. Yes, it's been done. And yes, Bard should be given the opportunity. It just doesn't seem likely to work given Bard's history.