The transition of Daniel Bard to the rotation has hit what can charitably be called a speed bump. After a catastrophic start against Toronto on Sunday in which he walked six and hit two in 1.2 innings, Bard was optioned to Pawtucket. Manager Bobby Valentine made clear that this did not mark the end of Bard's time as a starter, but was instead a chance for him to get his mechanics back in order. It's easy to understand why this would be necessary. After a relatively promising start, Bard has unraveled of late.
Since the beginning of May, Bard has started seven games. In those games, he's thrown 36.2 innings (barely five per), struck out only 15 batters, and walked 27. That's good for a 3.68 K/9, a 6.63 BB/9, and a horrifying .55 K/BB ratio. Those numbers aren't acceptable in any context, let alone for a pitcher Boston's counting on to provide worthwhile starts. Throw in the fact that Boston's suddenly back within shouting distance of a playoff spot, and the decision to send Bard down for some head-clearing and mechanics-tweaking becomes an obvious one.
So Daniel's having a rough month, and the Red Sox front office has decided to let him figure it out on the farm, where he can work through whatever issues he's having without mussing up the big club's ERA. Setbacks happen, and teams and players work through them, end of story, right? Well, it's the Red Sox, so of course not. No, this can't be just about Bard's lost mechanics. It's a larger metaphor for Boston's stubborn, PR-minded management, a tale of woe in which Daniel Bard is the helpless broken puppet of a cruel and foolish master. And fortunately for all of us, Jon Morosi is here to enlighten us, with the laziest of all Bard comps.
We've been over (and over, and over, and over) the arguments about whether Bard should be starting, or should ever have been asked to start. There's no reason to rehash them at this point. Especially since we can all agree that whatever the future holds, he shouldn't be starting right now, at least at the big-league level. But an argument like Morosi's is such a transparent attempt to stir up torches, pitchforks, and pageviews that it needs to be addressed. So here I go, off again to feed a well-paid troll.
Bard, it seems, is the "new Joba Chamberlain." You remember Joba Chamberlain. Big dude, not overly thinky-seeming, threw real hard. He was the top starter in the Yankees' minor-league system, flew through the levels, came up and blew hitters away in relief in 2007, then spent a few years trying to be a starter, and falling apart. See? Joba Chamberlain was a reliever, then a starter. Daniel Bard was a reliever, now he's a starter. Boom. Perfect correlation. Especially since Joba was the only pitcher in baseball history to get his big-league start as a reliever, then transition to starting. Until Bard, obviously.
That this transition is hardly unique to Chamberlain and Bard isn't the only place the comp falls apart. Matt Kory, in a discussion this very week, laid out one important difference: of Bard and Chamberlain, only one was forced by their club to do a poor impression of a yo-yo. The Yankees spent three years yanking Joba around, disrupting his workouts, changing his role, throwing his concentration, and doing everything in their power to confuse the hell out of both him and his arm. Boston hasn't done anything like that with Bard. Matt Sullivan wrote in January about a potentially much better comp: Texas's Alexi Ogando. Conveniently, that piece also addresses Morosi's other argument: that Bard's struggles in Single-A should have dissuaded Boston from attempting the transition.
Are those struggles irrelevant? Of course not. It's data. More data = good. And as those struggles came while Bard was in the Boston system, one assumes that Boston is privy to that data. So the Red Sox know that Daniel Bard was a lousy starter as a 22-year-old minor-leaguer. Why, then, give him a shot in the major-league rotation? There are two possibilities. One is that Boston looked at the Single-A results, figured out why Bard had struggled, and either fixed it or decided it had already been fixed. The other possibility, and the far more appealing one if you're looking for pageviews, is that Boston's front office saw those numbers, knew they might bite them on the ass, but were too concerned with PR and penny-pinching to care.
If Bard clicked as a starter, the Red Sox would win games and the Boston papers wouldn't mention the unwise investments in John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. (At least, not as often.)
The real pain of it is that the first half of that explains the gamble perfectly. "If Bard clicked as a starter, the Red Sox would win games." It was a calculated risk, it hasn't worked out so far. How hard is that to understand? Isn't it just as interesting to use your hard-won connections and long years of baseball experience to write about why he hasn't clicked? Or is that sort of analysis too befouled by the reek of the slime molds that only grow in mothers' basements?
So instead of analysis, we get the PR angle. Boston decided to sacrifice Daniel Bard's career so that they could escape the bad press surrounding a few bad signings. I love that he even acknowledges how dumb this is in the parenthetical. Theo Epstein will win three titles in Chicago and run for Senate, and he'll still be hearing it from Shaughnessy about Julio Lugo. The local hack brigade will still be flogging ownership with the Lackey and Matsuzaka contracts when D'Angelo Ortiz hits a walkoff home run off Cyborg Jamie Moyer in the 2031 World Series. No power in the 'verse can stop the Boston media from being relentlessly negative, and Sox ownership is smart enough not to bother trying. Especially by sacrificing a young, cost-controlled arm.
(By the way, just for fun, Morosi on Lackey in 2010: "...if Lackey proves to be Boston's biggest pitching acquisition since Curt Schilling - and I think he will…")
Morosi then lays into Ben Cherington's roster construction, and how Bard's failings have blown up the whole thing:
So far, the GM is 0 for 3. Bard and Melancon are Pawtucket teammates. The injured Bailey hasn't thrown a pitch this season. Meanwhile, two players Cherington traded for Melancon and Bailey are quiet All-Star candidates: Jed Lowrie in Houston and Josh Reddick in Oakland.
It's true, Bailey hasn't thrown a pitch this year. Big whiff there, although signs are decent that he should be coming back pretty soon. And yes, Melancon's still down in Pawtucket. Why? Not because he's ineffective, or injured, but because everyone else in the bullpen has been so good that there's no room for him. This isn't a sign that Melancon is a failed trade, it's a sign that Boston's other bullpen acquisitions have been successful. As for the guys traded away… Lowrie's hitting like crazy, but if history is any guide, he's about to trip over third base, sprain his ankle, and somehow contract leprosy in the process. Reddick, meanwhile, went from Fenway Park to the Oakland Coliseum, and currently has as many home runs as Jose Bautista. Just like everyone predicted.
Besides, neither of those guys is a starting pitcher. And as you all probably recall, the one thing Boston needed more than anything was a starting pitcher. Really, two. This is the thing that drives me most nuts about Morosi's "if Red Sox management had built this team correctly" line. Boston was coming into this season with two open spots in the rotation and no good options to fill them. Lackey and Matsuzaka, as previously discussed, were hurt, but still getting paid. CJ Wilson was well out of Boston's price range, and no other free agents were particularly appealing, aside from Roy Oswalt, who apparently long ago declared vendetta upon the New England region and will never, ever pitch here.
Short of trading the entire farm for Felix Hernandez (or Michael Pineda, and look how that's turned out), what were the Red Sox supposed to do here? Shoot the moon on deals for Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda, blow past $200 million and not care what that did to their future flexibility? Anything? Any suggestions at all, Jon? No? Right, of course not. Much easier to dismiss the Bard experiment as a PR move, doomed from the start, and toss in a completely useless Joba comp. And easy analysis, after all, is the best kind of analysis.