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« Phillies Add Thome's Pop for Peanuts | Main | Buyer Beware on Jurrjens »

Bard of the Rotation?

At the present moment, Boston's 2012 rotation consists of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz (back injury cooperating) and...uh...your guess is as good as mine. With Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey out following Tommy John surgery, Nuke LaLoosh doppelganger Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland (who combined for a 6.44 ERA in 2011) may be the fourth and fifth options. The Red Sox will no doubt scour the free agent and trade market for an arm or two, but one idea being bandied about is moving Daniel Bard from the bullpen to the rotation.

Peter Gammons said the move, while considered by Boston, is unlikely. Jonathan Papelbon hits free agency this winter, and the Sox may well move Bard to the closer spot and let someone else give Papelbon upwards of $13-15 million per year. But if Papelbon returns, or the Sox sign another reliever to handle the ninth, or they don't find many palatable starting options outside of the organization, the former starter at North Carolina would have to tighten up his approach against left-handed hitters to succeed going through the lineup multiple times.

Since he made his MLB debut in 2009, Bard has a 3.85 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.34 Fielding Independent ERA (FIP) against right-handed hitters. He hasn't been bad against lefties, but he has shown a decent-sized platoon split (a 2 K/BB ratio, and a 4.09 FIP). Righties swing through his stuff often, missing 31.1 percent of the time that they offer, but lefties have a milder 21.1 percent miss rate.

Most of that difference stems from his upper-90s fastball. Righties can't seem to handle the pitch (24 percent miss rate), especially the high heat:

Right-handed hitters' contact rate vs. Bard's fastball, 2009-2011

Lefties, however, connect much more often (16 percent miss rate):

Left-handed hitters' contact rate vs. Bard's fastball, 2009-2011

Happily for the Red Sox, it seems like Bard might be adapting against lefties and becoming a little less predictable. He cut his fastball usage against southpaws from 77 percent in 2009-2010 to slightly less than 70 percent, mixing in more hard, high-80s-to-low-90s changeups and mid-80s sliders. It's dangerous to make much of a one-year change in a platoon split for a reliever, but he did increase his ground ball rate against lefties from 49 percent the previous two years to 64 percent, and his K/BB climbed to 2.6.

Bard hasn't started a professional game since 2007, when he walked over a batter per inning and posted a 6.25 FIP between two levels of A-Ball. But he has made gigantic strides since that lost season, and he profiles as a more ground ball-slanted version of Alexi Ogando, a high-octane reliever-turned starter who managed a 3.6 Wins Above Replacement season for Texas. If the Red Sox think he could handle 150+ innings and fend off lefties, moving Bard to the rotation and signing someone else to handle the ninth wouldn't be such a bad idea.

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