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Daniel Bard can be the new Derek Lowe for Boston

Dec 11, 2011, 8:00 PM EDT

Daniel Bard AP

And that’s meant in a good way.

Derek Lowe saved 42 games for the Red Sox in 2000 and then struggled some the next year, losing his closer’s role in the process. The Red Sox opted to try him as a starter at the end of the season, and when he transitioned into that role fully in 2002, he nearly won a Cy Young Award. He finished 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA in 219 2/3 innings that season, and while he was never so good again, he’s been a quality starting pitcher for a decade now.

This isn’t the first time since that the Red Sox have tried to turn one of their most important relievers into a starting pitcher. They groomed Jonathan Papelbon as a starter in the spring of 2007, only to shift him back to the pen late in the spring. Now they want to try it again with Daniel Bard, a starting pitcher in college who only found success in the minors after being moved to the pen.

That’s the scary part about the transition. Bard was a complete bust after one year in the Boston system, going 3-7 with a 7.08 ERA and a 47/78 K/BB ratio in 75 innings in his 22 starts in 2007. The Red Sox moved him to the pen the next spring and he thrived right away. He debuted in the majors in 2009 and has a 2.88 ERA and a 213/76 K/BB ratio in 197 innings since.

But, really, there’s no reason to think he lost in 2007 because he was starting. He was a bust because his mechanics were terrible, and he also seemed intimidated by the crazy hitting environment at Lancaster, the toughest place to pitch in the minors.

Perhaps that doesn’t speak well of Bard’s mental toughness, but 2007 was five years ago now. He’s succeeded at the highest level of competition. Perhaps even more important, he’s a far more complete pitcher now than he was when he was drafted. His slider has turned into a very good second pitch, and his changeup has also come a long way, even though he doesn’t get to use it too much as a reliever.

Obviously, Bard isn’t Lowe. Lowe has always relied on a sinker to get outs. Bard is still going to try to overpower hitters, even though his velocity figures to decline from 96-99 mph as a reliever to 93-97 mph as a starter.

But Bard should be plenty good as a starting pitcher, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make the same kind of impact C.J. Wilson did in Texas when he made the conversion two years ago. The Red Sox could always change their minds later and throw him back in the pen as a setup man or a closer. But if there’s ever a time to move him, this is it, and it would make sense to give him at least a few months to prove himself.

  1. Ari Collins - Dec 11, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Almost exactly my thoughts. And while Lowe is the best Boston comp, there are lots of relief-to-starter moves, including a couple recent successes.

    • dondada10 - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:42 PM

      C.J. Wilson is one of those recent successes.

      • unclemosesgreen - Dec 12, 2011 at 1:39 PM

        Also Brett Myers, and if you expand the list to include high-quality setup men you could add Alexi Ogando, Phil Hughes, Justin Masterson, Adam Wainwright and a lot of others. It’s a lot more common for starters to convert to relievers, but it goes both ways.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:59 PM

      Any particular reason they aren’t grooming Aceves to start? With no closer (overrated I know, but bear with me), it seems a bit odd to remove another person from the bullpen as well, doesn’t it? And wasn’t Jenks hurt as well? Is Boston not going to have a bullpen at all?

      • JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:23 PM

        I think Aceves fits the long relief roll really well. His effectively-wild, throw-seven-different-pitches, walk a bunch of guys and use 30 pitches to get out of the inning can work in short stints. As a starter, all those weaknesses are going to compound and multiply on him.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:24 PM

        Aceves really isn’t very good. Aside from an obscene run of collecting pitcher wins, he’s never pitched particularly well, and I’d hate to see him as a starter. What he IS good at, seemingly, is pitching a ton of innings out of the ‘pen. (93 IP as reliever! Plus four starts!) Boy’s got a rubber arm, which is a talent that only really helps you in long relief. That’s where he should stay.

        If Bard starts, the ‘pen right now would be: Jenks, Aceves, Albers, Morales, Miller, Hill, Atchison (with some other options if the Sox decide to go in a different direction with some slots). It’s a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks bullpen, sure, but many of those guys were good relievers last year, and the rest have had previous success (Jenks, Hill, Miller). It’s probably a below-average bullpen for a contender, but not terrible, and the offseason’s not over yet; good chance they pick up a quality arm to replace Bard (if not Papelbon).

      • JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:40 PM

        “Aceves really isn’t very good.”

        Alright, well I was trying to be a bit more charitable, but yes.

        As far the the decimated bullpen goes… Kyle Wieland, Alex Wilson and Felix Doubront are three in-house guys who, while not great prospects in the grand scheme of things, could potentially step up and provide the Sox with some quality bullpen arms in 2012.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 11, 2011 at 11:42 PM

        Oh I agree he’s not that great, but wouldnt you be more comfortable starting a guy who threw 114IP last year than a whose major league career high is 74?

      • Ari Collins - Dec 12, 2011 at 10:50 AM

        Not if it’s 114 bad innings compared to 74 excellent innings. Plus, the slow buildup of innings is only a general guideline for younger arms without as much strength in them yet.

  2. lovesmesomeme - Dec 11, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    Here’s a thought how about Bard is we thought who he is

    • danindelray - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:05 PM

      Here’s a thought: Learn to speak English before attempting to write it.

    • JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:41 PM

      “Here’s a thought how about Bard is we thought who he is”

      I’m actually not 100% sure that’s a thought.

  3. JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    This still doesn’t smell right to me. Yeah, 2007 was a long time ago. The fact remains that Bard has never had a single good start as a professional. Hopefully this is just a smokescreen before the Sox go out and sign or otherwise acquire some real starters.

    • baseballisboring - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:08 PM

      I don’t think so, man. Not that we’re not still looking for starters but they seem serious about giving him a shot and I’m in favor of it. I mean, he is an elite set up man, with two good pitches plus the change-up, which from what I’ve seen is inconsistent but i think it could definitely progress cause I’ve seen him throw a few nasty ones. Maybe his command would improve too with throwing 93-94 instead of 98-99.

      • JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:36 PM

        Fastball-slider monsters like Bard tend to have issues with opposite-handed hitting. Indeed, Bard has issues with lefty hitters (very mundane stats against them). It’s critical that Bard develop a good changeup for him to work as a starter, and while he’s shown a good one at times, well… there’s a long, long, LONG list of failed starer prospects who showed a good change at times. Throwing a good chance sometimes is nice, but throwing a good chance consistently is another thing entirely. And you know what happens to a lot of those failed starters who never developed a good change? They become really good relievers.

        I really hope that in a month from now the Red Sox are saying “we fully intended to make Bard a starter, but with Darvish and Jackson on the team now…”.

      • baseballisboring - Dec 11, 2011 at 11:06 PM

        True, I mean, you’re right. I’m just saying it’s definitely worth a shot. Cause he doesn’t need to use the change as much in relief, so I think if he keeps working on it it has the potential to be a good third pitch. If he could just develop a consistent, average changeup and harness his control a little he could be really good as a starter.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:32 PM

      He’s gotten a lot better than he was when he began his career as a professional. He may not have been a good starter yet, but he’s become a very good pitcher, and it’s worth a shot to see if it’ll translate into being a good starter.

      I understand your reluctance, and while I’m optimistic, I think there’s a reasonable chance he can’t cut it. But all we’ve lost then is 30-60 innings of relief, and we can always put him back in the relief role. The upside is great and in an area of greater need than the bullpen. As long as Boston doesn’t vacillate constantly like the Yankees did with Joba and Hughes, Bard should be fine. (Though, to be fair, there were obvious health issues the Yankees were trying to figure out how to manage in both cases.)

      • JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:52 PM

        I’m not really opposed to giving this a shot in spring training. Or, at least I’m not opposed on the grounds that doing so is going to cause some kind of cataclysm… if I’m opposed to it, I’m opposed to it in the sense that I don’t think there’s much of a chance it works.

        And Joba and Hughes… those guys came up as starters. That the roll they’d been developed for in the minors. Ditto Lowe. Ditto CJ Wilson. Ditto Todd Wellemeyer. Hell, ditto Feliz and Papelbon, and they both tried unsuccessfully to convert back to starting. Closest example I can think of: Kenny Rogers wasn’t much of a starter in the minors. And does Daniel Bard look much like Kenny Rogers to you?

      • Ari Collins - Dec 12, 2011 at 8:10 AM

        Feliz and Papelbon were unsuccessfully converted to starters? I’m not sure we know this, do we?

  4. dirtdog7 - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    Yeah the Sox have been surprisingly quiet this offseason outside of bringing in Valentine as manager and the rumors are that they’re just trying to stay under the luxury tax. It would be a shame if baseball decisions like this one were really motivated by cost-cutting for the team with the highest ticket prices in the game.

    • unclemosesgreen - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:17 PM

      On behalf of Red Sox fans everywhere, I apologize for dirtdog7. Dan Shaugnessy’s Chucky-Doll mini-me is living inside his head, and that would be distracting for anyone. We are all very very sorry that dirtdog7 is whining about the Sox possibly coming in under the luxury tax threshold for once. Dirtdog7 is probably not very old, and hasn’t had a chance to stick but one pinky toe outside the Boston pool. Dirtdog7 will grow and learn from this experience, please be patient with him. Thank you.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:37 PM

        To be fair, this is far from Shaugnessy level.

  5. dirtdog7 - Dec 11, 2011 at 9:32 PM

    Woah easy with the hate there. The sox have huge revenues and they can afford to pay the luxury tax. If you think that the Red Sox should ease back on free agent signings that’s fine. Our recent history on signings has been spotty at best. But if they are planning on cutting payroll then they should cut the ticket prices too.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 11, 2011 at 10:28 PM

      Their payroll is going to be higher than last year even if they sign no one else.

      Most teams have had quiet offseasons, with the obvious exceptions of the Angels and Marlins. It’s early yet, and this team doesn’t need much anyway except to get healthy. Or even just less unhealthy.

      • JBerardi - Dec 11, 2011 at 11:30 PM

        They need starting pitchers. And I’d prefer they sign new ones instead of pilfering them from other areas of need.

    • unclemosesgreen - Dec 12, 2011 at 11:45 AM

      Adrian Gonzalez – 7 years, $154 million
      Carl Crawford – 7 years, $142 million
      John Lackey – 5 years, $82.5 million
      Papi agreed to arb., projected value around $14 million.
      Another $10 million next year for DiceK.

      2 points: 1) it’s not hate to tell you to look at those numbers and stop … whining … now 2) Sox stretched out Papelbon as a starter right before turning him into the closer. Relax. And remember – nobody likes a whiner, kid.

  6. Francisco (FC) - Dec 12, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    Daniel Bard can be the new Derek Lowe for Boston

    No doubt about it. He WILL be the new Derek Lowe for Boston. The question remains, will it be 2002 Derek Lower or 2011 Derek Lowe? There’s a difference…

  7. bozosforall - Dec 12, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    Red Sox continue to spiral downward. LMAO

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