Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Rant about Daniel Bard

In case you don't know, the picture above these words is that of Daniel Bard. He's better than at least one guy currently in the Red Sox bullpen, maybe more. But will we see him in Fenway anytime soon? Not likely.

Bard was the second pick of the Red Sox in the 2006 Draft, when he was one of the hot starters for the UNC Tar Heels along with Andrew Miller. Shortly after he was drafted, I watched Bard pitch in the College World Series, and in one game he was still throwing close to 100 mph even though he'd already pitched seven innings.

He pitched well in instructs that fall, and the Sox started him out in 2007 at the launching pad in Lancaster, Calif. It produced simply awful results. In five starts there he had a 10.12 ERA with 22 BB and 9 K, and he was actually demoted to Greenville so he could build some confidence. That didn't work either. His 17 starts there were riddled with poor control and he finished with a 6.39 ERA. Bard just didn't have enough with his secondary pitches to consistently compliment his blazing fastball. The only logical move for the Red Sox to salvage their former 1st-rounder was to try him as a reliever.

Those results? Much better. After working his slurvy off-speed offering into a solid, mid-80s slider, Bard took off. Between Greenvile and Portland, he managed 107 K and 30 BB in 77 2/3 innings and a 1.50 ERA. He also did not disappoint in spring training. In Peter Gammons' annual column about the most impressive spring performances, Bard was surveyed as the best young arm in either Florida or Arizona.

It wasn't necessarily surprising that Bard was sent to Pawtucket to start the season, but it must have been a disappointment for him given his performance. Now facing Triple-A hitters for the first time, here are his numbers thus far: 6 G, 9 IP, 3 SV, 1 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 16 K. That one hit was a home run.

The Red Sox big league bullpen is doing well right now. They were sterling in the sweep of Baltimore, with Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen continuing to dominate (0 ER in 16 2/3 IP). But there's at least one weak link in the bullpen who doesn't belong, and there's no arguing that Bard would be more useful than that certain lefty specialist: Javier Lopez.

Lopez isn't really that bad. He had a good year last year, and earned his $1.35 million for 2009 based on that. However, I'm fundamentally opposed to relief pitchers in general, and especially opposed to the lefty specialists who I find to be entirely useless. This year, Lopez has been useless at his useless job. So far against lefties, Lopez has surrendered 4 H and 4 BB in just 1.1 IP. Not good.

You can't tell me that Bard, who is right-handed, couldn't have done a better job. Bard's numbers tell me that regardless of what side of the plate they are facing him from, he's getting them out.

That salary for Lopez is low enough that the Red Sox could get a prospect back for him (not a good prospect, just a prospect) and use Bard in a much more, you know, useful capacity. Will they do it?

Almost definitely not. When Dice-K was put on the DL, and it was decided to toss Masterson into the rotation. So who came up to replace Matsuzaka on the roster? You'd think the best reliever in Triple-A, right? No. It was Hunter Jones. Yes, this Hunter Jones. Impressive, I know.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. Do they want Bard to get comfortable facing Triple-A hitters for a month or two before calling him up? But, given Terry Francona's loyalty to Lopez and his useless abilities, who will go down? Nobody else has minor league options besides Jones, as far as I know.

With Jonathan Papelbon's early inconsistency, it's plausible that Daniel Bard is the best relief pitcher in the Red Sox organization. Yet he's not in the big leagues. Let's hope this changes soon.

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