Bullpen Watch: Daniel Bard

When Daniel Bard was drafted out of North Carolina in the first round of the 2006 draft, the Red Sox almost certainly had visions of him as a starting pitcher. At least that’s what the $1.55M signing bonus he received would indicate to me.

As of last week, however, that plan appears to have been scrapped in favor of a relief role. Recognizing that the lack of a second pitch – Baseball America’s scouter: “he’s never has had a reliable breaking ball…his changeup is less dependable than his breaking ball” – the front office has decided to move Bard into the bullpen, according to Rob Bradford.

Keith Law, for one, would seem to argue in favor of the idea. We’ve already mentioned his feelings on Bard generally, but regarding the prospect of Bard in the bullpen specifically he’s said:

Paul (San Francisco): Will Craig Hansen or Daniel Bard ever make this list?

SportsNation Keith Law: Bard is much more likely. I’ve almost given up hope on Hansen. Bard in the pen could move quickly.

And given the requirements for success as a starting pitcher versus that of a relief arm, it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

But just how quickly can Bard be expected to move? Bradford mentions his success as a reliever in the Hawaiian Winter League, saying:

Bard threw 16 innings over 16 winter league games, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out 15.

Further, he quotes Bard as crediting the bullpen stint with a perceived improvement in his performance:

“Hawaii was the first time I have thrown out of the bullpen,” he said. “It’s a different mentality, but I threw pretty well out there. I was throwing one- or two-inning outings, just coming in and blowing it out and letting my stuff take over. To be honest, my command and stuff all jumped up when I was out there, whether it was a confidence thing or being more aggressive facing hitters. It’s something that was a lot more effective.”

All of which sounds great. The problem is that if Hawaii represented a “jump” in his command, it’s not a positive indicator for the future.

What Bradford declined to mention amidst the good news of his 1.08 ERA and 8 hits in 16+ IP in Hawaii was that in addition to the 15Ks came 15 BBs. And five hit batsman. That’s 20 guys on base in ~17 innings. Before hits.

As Project Prospect puts it, for all that Bard has a potentially dominant major league fastball, “he can’t reasonably hope to continue holding opposing hitters to the .140 BABIP he did in Hawaii, particularly if he’s walking over 8 batters per game and hitting over 2.5.”

It may well be that a shift to the bullpen allows Bard to focus more on the command of his fastball rather than the evolution of a starter’s repertoire, and it’s unquestionably true that his arm gives him the potential to impact the major league bullpen should his control prove even adequate.

But what I haven’t see yet are any indications that the control will evolve as quickly as some seem to think. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong, because I’d love nothing more than to see him and his electric arm breaking bats for the good guys sooner rather than later.