After three seasons coming out of the bullpen, the converted reliever was called upon to start this season. He’s shown flashes of promise, but his inconsistencies have gotten the better of him on too many occasions for this move to be the least bit surprising.
It is worth mentioning however that with the Red Sox optioning him to Triple A, instead of merely sending him back to the bullpen, the team appears committed to using Bard as a starter. While the results of his starts have not been what they want them to be, there appears to be a more significant problem, which Dave Cameron of FanGraphs outlined earlier today.
Daniel Bard has never had very good command, and this year, it’s gotten worse. But, velocity and strike throwing are not independent, and Bard would probably feel a lot more confident pounding the zone if his fastball was 97 instead of 93. There were some legitimate reasons to try Bard as a starter, and as Samardzija, Lynn, and Sale have shown, these conversions can produce very positive results. For whatever reason, though, Bard’s velocity didn’t make the translation to the rotation, and right now, he doesn’t have the stuff to make up for his control issues.
It seems as though his decreased velocity is a matter of conditioning, as he’s hit 96 and 97 miles per hour several times this year. However, in his longest outing of the year, on April 27, against the Chicago White Sox, this was his velocity chart, which is hardly a-typical for him this season:
While his velocity didn’t start out nearly as well in his most recent outing, it could be a sign of overall fatigue rather than merely just what happens in the later innings.
Pitching isn’t very easy. And pitching multiple innings is even harder. Given the problems seemingly being about endurance, I might be tempted to scrap Bard’s starting experiment and use him in the bullpen for the rest of the year.
However, I suppose a starting pitcher is almost always more valuable than a reliever, and so the Red Sox are well justified in giving Bard every opportunity to establish himself as a starter. But to throw yet another “however” on the previous “however,” but Bard’s conditioning has come into question before considering his velocity drop last year as the season wore on.