Daniel Bard of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Daniel Bard has generated his share of discussion here this winter. His conversion from relief to starting pitcher isn't everyone's favorite idea, but there are plenty of reasons to believe it's for the best for both the Red Sox and Bard. As early as December, we took a look at what we might know about Daniel Bard as a starter, and the takeaway was in favor of the switch.
With the season approaching, and Bard stretching out in spring training with the other starters, the rest of the analysis world is starting to discuss the job change. Bard himself even took a crack at it, via David Laurila of Fangraphs:
"I looked at more of the secondary stuff, like my batting-average-against [.176], my ground-ball rate [52.7] and my strikeouts-to-walks ratio [3.08]. If I can get close to those numbers as a starter - I know it's not all going to translate directly - there's no reason I can't be successful.
"A two-pitch mix probably isn't going to translate to the same numbers, so I'll need to continue to develop my changeup and use a two-seamer to get more ground balls. I'll be happy getting ground-ball outs and not necessarily as many strikeouts, because a lot of good pitchers keep their pitch counts down.
It's not surprising to see a pitcher know what he needs to focus on in this conversion from relief to starting, but it's still good to see that Bard gets what needs to happen: he needs to focus on efficiency and mixing his pitches up, not just beating everyone with velocity like he could get away with in one-inning bursts out of the bullpen.
Over at Grantland last week, Jonah Keri looked at some of the past successes and failures of relievers converting to the rotation, but not just for Bard's sake, as there are other relievers converting to the rotation in 2012. The results, statistically, were mixed, but it's very easy to piece together an argument where most of the relievers making the switch this year -- Daniel Bard, Chris Sale, Neftali Feliz, Aroldis Chapman -- are all superior or equal arms to the best who have attempted the move in the past.
Keri uses a table showing the FIP of these relievers in the two seasons prior to the conversion to starting, and with few exceptions it's a list that doesn't impress. There are more Aaron Crows here than there are Bards and Sales, so it's hard to use this as any kind of definitive proof of future success or failure, especially with the sample involved.
Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus ranked the five arms in order of their likelihood to succeed. Lindbergh says not to take the rankings that seriously, as everyone involved is "pretty good" at pitching, but Bard does rank ahead of Feliz, and behind only Sale here:
After [Bard's] starting struggles, the Red Sox allowed him to abandon the mechanical changes they had forced him to adopt early in his pro career and revert to the delivery that had made him a first-round draft pick in 2006. While that seemed to bring an end to his troubles, he did fight through some mechanical struggles last September, walking nine and pitching to a 10.64 ERA in 11 innings (tiny sample alert). However, his fastball could sit at 95 as a starter, and he has an effective slider and changeup that will serve him well as he attempts to go deep into games.
Feliz, Sale, and Bard are all incredibly similar in terms of repertoire and velocity, and their successes have all been around the same level as well. This is something I covered late last month, and the takeaway is that these pitchers -- all fastball/slider relievers with a third pitch they can improve and lean on -- are all very likely to succeed as starters in 2012. It's good to see some consensus from others on this note, instead of just seeing us bang that drum here again and again, but we'll all see for sure soon enough. Real baseball is just around the corner, and that means real starts for soon-to-be former reliever, Daniel Bard.