By now you've heard of the rumor floating around about Alfredo Aceves entering the season as a starter with Daniel Bard heading to the bullpen. By now you've also probably decided whether or not this would be a good thing.
For my two cents, it doesn't make a lot of sense not to at least try Daniel Bard in the rotation at this point, but for now let's switch focuses to the other man in the equation: Alfredo Aceves.
Ever since the news broke that both men would attempt to make the switch, I've made it no secret that Alfredo Aceves isn't high on my list for potential Red Sox starters. Last year, we watched Ace have an incredible year on the mound, throwing 114 innings of 2.61 ERA ball as the team's long relief specialist. Still, just because he was capable of surviving the year as something of a demi-starter doesn't mean there weren't plenty of reasons to doubt that he was starter material. Bloated peripherals for one, as Aceve's 4.03 FIP and 4.77 xFIP don't exactly inspire confidence, but also the simple fact that when he was starting, he was pretty bad.
Think back, if you will, to those three games where Ace was called upon to throw the Sox' first pitch. Against the Padres, Ace would walk six batters in five innings. Against the White Sox, he gave up eight runs (six earned). And even though he managed to survive five innings with just one run against the Cubs and Tigers, only his game against Detroit showed the stuff you'd expect against a regular starter.
The fact of the matter is that when Ace was pitching the full game, he seemed a different man, completely lacking control and actually managing to hit five batters in four games (including the terrifying headshot to Marlon Byrd). As a starter, his ERA spiked to 5.14 on a 6.33 xFIP. These are the performances and numbers I was looking at when I decided Ace as a starter wasn't for me, but now they're the ones I'm trying to convince myself are a misrepresentation.
The fact of the matter is that as much as Alfredo Aceves went deep for us on a number of occasions last year, there is still a jump between that, and starting--one that's hard to ignore when called upon to make the switch on short notice. As a reliever, working on a reliever's schedule with the expectation that any given day he could be called on to pitch, it's not surprising that such a sudden change could throw him off, or that he would be forced to change his style of pitching going into a game with the knowledge that he was expected to provide five innings of work.
Beyond any sort of mental considerations, though, it could simply be that Aceves wasn't stretched out to really throw more than 50-odd pitches. Beyond just the four starts he made, Alfredo would exceed 50 pitches in eight other games, and the results were rarely pretty, with his OPS against spiking from .638 on pitches 25-50 to .861 on pitches 50-75. While that's obviously not what you want from a starter by any means, the hope would be that properly stretched out and on a typical four days' rest schedule, Ace would manage to maintain his results deeper into games.
I don't think there's much evidence that Ace can be the same pitcher he was last year as a starter. I'm not entirely convinced he can even be the same pitcher he was last year as a reliever--even though he's outperformed his peripherals in four straight seasons, the sample size only covers one season for a typical starter. What I do think is quite possible, however, is that Ace can be decent as a starter, with his overall performance falling more in line with his relief appearances from 2011 than his starts with the benefit of extra preparation.
There are still some concerns. For him to be successful three times through a lineup, he'll likely have to inorporate his changeup more, for instance. And while his spring results have been positive so far, he hasn't exactly been running marathons on the mound. Still, with the possibility looming that he takes one of the two spots to start the season, I'm not quite as afraid of that outcome as I was a few months back.
Marlon Byrd, on the other hand...