The Boston Red Sox Pitching Question Marks: Clay Bucholz & Daniel Bard

If an election year is when politicians play up the embattled middle class, then the middle of the Boston Red Sox rotation should come in for special focus. The pitching is solid at the top with Jon Lester and Josh Beckett constituting a solid 1-2 punch, but the 3-4 spots are filled with questions, as Red Sox fans wonder what to expect from Clay Bucholz and Daniel Bard.

Fans may not be wondering what to expect from Bucholz, but they should. Its being casually assumed that the 27-year-old righthander will just snap right back to his 2010 form when he won 17 games and finished with a 2.33 ERA. But it can’t be assumed that his injury problems will go away. The kid did have a fractured back last year, and even if the injury stays away who can say how that might affect his mechanics. More to the point, Bucholz has yet to make 30 starts in a season, nor has he pitched 200 innings. In fact, his ’09 year was the only time he went higher than 20 starts and 100 innings. We’re assuming an awful lot to think he’ll go the entire season in 2012.

Everyone’s well aware of the question marks surrounding Bard, as he tries to make the conversion from setup man to closer. For a pitcher who relies on throwing heat that’s not an easy transition to make, and the early returns from Fort Myers haven’t been encouraging. He’s given up 15 runs in 13.2 IP. He also delivered this interesting quote on his rough outing on Sunday—““Take the five runs out of it and I feel pretty good about it.” Yeah, those runs are just an insignificant barometer of performance.

At this point, I’m just hoping the organization hasn’t messed up his career with this foolish change and sent Bard into at the kind of downward life spiral you see on the DirecTV commercials. In this case, the close to the commercial would be the announcer intoning “And when your career gets destabilized, you end up jumping on a trampoline with Joba Chamberlain. Don’t end up in a trampoline with Joba Chamberlain. Stay in the bullpen.”

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  • Matt Sullivan

    Your statements on Buchholz’s innings totals are way off. You are completely ignoring all innings he threw in the minors before 2010. He pitched 146 total innings in 2007, 134 in 2008 and 191 in 09 between the majors and the minors. He was not throwing all those innings at the major league level because he still had options. To say that 2010 (not 09, as you have here) is the only year he threw 20+ starts and 100+ innings is a misrepresentation of his durability. Last year was the first year that he DID NOT make 20+ starts and pitch over 100 innings. Drawing conclusions about his ability to go 200 innings in 2012 based on half the picture doesn’t make sense.

    It is dangerous to draw conclusions from any small sample and games in Spring Training are even more dangerous data sets. Both Bard and Valentine were happy with his 5 run loss because he used all his pitches, pitched efficiently and did not allow much hard contact, outside Adam Lind’s HR and double. It wasn’t a great performance but it was a step in the direction for Bard as he moves into a starting role. Making too many assumptions based on the stat line overlooks the fact that the game didn’t count and it is far more important that he work on his pitches than prevent runs.

    And why is comparing Bard to a starter who got put in the bullpen for 40 innings and then blew his arm out starting the next season helpful in anyway? He is nothing like Chamberlain, in role, in development or in circumstance. I don’t get it.

    • danflaherty

      Three points…

      1)You’re correct about it being 2010, rather than ’09 that he had 20+ starts and 100+ IP. Sorry, I’m getting my years mixed up.

      2)I disagree with the weight given to minor league innings. Minor league hitters can’t grind a pitcher up with long at-bats the way big-leaguers can, and the intensity level required is much greater at the MLB level.

      3)I see your point on Bard and not overreacting to the bad outings this spring, and I hope you’re right. I think because I’ve been skeptical of this move to begin with, I tend to see the results in the worst possible light. I truly hope I am wrong.