Tag: Daniel Bard

Daniel Bard Likely to Begin 2013 Season in Minors for the Boston Red Sox

Once among the best young relief pitchers in baseball, Boston Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard looked lost last year during an attempted conversion to the starting rotation.

Although he has made great strides to reclaim his career this spring, it appears he still has work to do and will likely start the 2013 season in the minors. 

The 27-year-old Bard is a former first-round draft choice of the Red Sox. He posted a combined 2.88 ERA and 9.73 strikeouts per nine innings in his first three major league seasons, which were spent exclusively in the bullpen. 

Boston decided to convert him to a starter in 2012, in large part because of his big fastball, which FanGraphs.com indicates has averaged nearly 97 mph during his career.

The experiment was a disaster. Bard was just 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA in 17 games (10 starts) last year, while experiencing massive lapses in command and a demotion to the minors. 

He entered spring training this year without a roster spot and few expectations. Although he hasn’t been entirely consistent, the overall results have been much better. Once again pitching in relief, he has allowed four hits, three walks and three runs in six innings, while striking out seven. 

He was unscored upon in his first five innings, before allowing three runs in his last major league spring appearance.

WEEI’s Alex Speier reported that Bard struggled in a Double-A spring training game Friday, allowing two walks, a hit and a hit batter in two-thirds of an inning. 

Bard told Speier that regardless of the numbers, he’s been pleased with his results: 

I feel like I’m ready. I wasn’t to get back to pitching big innings for this team, important innings. It’s just a matter of getting out there consistently… 

I feel like I’m in such a better place. Velocity is coming back up. I feel like I’m in control out there… I feel like I have the stuff that I’m used to pitching with the last couple of years, the last few years.

Despite his optimism, it appears that barring an injury, he’s likely to be sent to the minors to start the season.

The Red Sox are expected to have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball, according to The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.

Additionally, Bard still has a minor league option left, while Clayton Mortensen, perhaps his biggest competition, does not.

Boston’s 25-man roster won’t be set until the April 1 season opener against the New York Yankees is upon us, but The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham projects that Bard will not make the initial cut, writing, “Daniel Bard is well down the road of shedding the woes that wrecked last season. But he’s not all the way there yet and does have options, so look for him to start the year in Pawtucket.”  

Pitching in the minors may be perceived as a punishment or an indication the team lacks confidence in Bard, but that’s not necessarily the case. With their bullpen depth, there’s no reason to push him, and he can continue working himself back to his previous form without the same intense scrutiny from the Boston media. 

Boston general manager Ben Cherington explained to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber that while the team is happy with Bard’s progress, they’re not going to rush him:

He’s a lot further ahead than where he ended the season. Probably still not all the way to where he wants to be, but sort of in the range of possibilities, he’s a lot closer to where he wants to be than where he was struggling last year. There’s definitely been a few outings where he’s looked pretty close, and I think he’s feeling gradually better about himself all the time. So we’ll see.

The nice thing, from my standpoint anyway, about his spring, is that we haven’t talked about it as much. At least it doesn’t seem like we have. He’s been able to just get his work and be a pitcher getting ready for the season.

Cherington refused to confirm to Lauber where Bard will start the season, but certainly made it sound like the minors are the most likely destination, stating, “This stuff tends to work itself out as time goes by. Our hope was that we had enough depth of good arms that by Opening Day we’ll have a lot of good options in the pen.”

Bard may not be with Boston at the start of the season, but if he continues working his way back, he could get the call soon.    

Statistics via Baseball-Reference 

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Fantasy Baseball 2013: Late-Round Relievers Who Will Grab You Saves

Shortly after creating MLBDepthCharts.com, I quickly realized just how important it was for fantasy baseball players to find the guy who was “next in line” for saves. Even if it’s just to give the regular closer a break after a few consecutive days of work, saves are valuable for fantasy geeks. 

A closer’s job is rarely on solid ground from one game to the next. Despite what else happens throughout the game, a blown save is not something that’s taken lightly in the media or by fans because it’s almost always directly correlated with the final result of the game. 

Even the best closers in the game will be scrutinized if they blow three or four saves in a month. If you’re not the best closer in the game and you blow a save or two over the span of a few games, the pressure builds as the next unsuccessful opportunity could be the last. 

Take a look at the Washington Nationals’ 2012 season. Brad Lidge and Henry Rodriguez shared the closer’s gig to the start the season with Drew Storen on the disabled list. The hard-throwing Rodriguez took over the job on his own after Lidge landed on the disabled list in late April. 

Less than a month later, Rodriguez was removed from the role after a string of shaky outings and manager Davey Johnson said he would go with a closer-by-committee, which never happened. Tyler Clippard got the first shot and then didn’t relinquish the role until Drew Storen returned from the disabled list and shared saves with him the rest of the way. 

Injuries and ineffectiveness will occur, as I’ve shown with one extreme example from 2012. So it’s important to have the right guy on your team at the right time. Here are several relievers not projected to close that could either “vulture” some saves throughout the year or eventually take over the closer’s role if the opportunity presented itself … 

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Daniel Bard Takes Positive Step Forward to Reclaim Career with Boston Red Sox

It may have been small, but Boston Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard recently took a positive step forward in his quest to reclaim his career.

After three seasons as one of the most dominant setup men in baseball, Bard converted to starting last season, which turned out to be an unqualified disaster.

Prior to last year, the hard-throwing right-handed Bard had combined for a 2.88 ERA and better than a strikeout per inning out of the bullpen.

In 2012, he lost his control and went 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA in 17 games (10 starts), while earning a highly publicized demotion to the minors after a particularly wild start against the Toronto Blue Jays.

He enters the 2013 season without a guaranteed roster spot and many questions about whether he can regain his previous form. His first spring action of the year should give hope that he is getting himself back on the right track.

On Thursday, Bard was tapped to start Boston’s first spring game; a matchup against Northeastern University.

The Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber wrote at first it appeared Bard had picked up right where he left off last season. He gave up a single to the Huskies’ Connor Lyons, and started off the next hitter, Michael Foster, with two balls before bouncing back to strike him out.

Instead of relying on his mid-90s fastball, Bard regained his composure by utilizing an improved slider, which he told Lauber he has improved by working with new teammate Joel Hanrahan, who has his own dominant version of the pitch:

I think we’re similar pitchers. We both have experience in the late innings with good fastballs and put-away sliders. We’re not pinpoint guys. That’s where I got in trouble last year, trying to be someone I wasn’t. Attack the zone. Challenge the hitter. That’s kind of what he does, too, so he’s a good guy to watch.

Bard went on to finish his outing by striking out the side on 18 pitches, including 13 strikes.

The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham noted that Bard didn’t appear to be pressing. This was something the pitcher agreed with, stating, “This was the first real adrenaline rush, and it was a lot of fun.”

While it was a dominant outing, the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton reported that Bard’s fastball command did not appear to be back to the same level it was prior to last year. However, new manager John Farrell didn’t seem too concerned and struck a more positive note:

At times, he leveraged [his fastball] downhill, his delivery was on time. There were other times you could see him come off the pitch where he’d run it up and in to a right-hander. That’s not totally unexpected.

According to MLB.com’s Ian Browne, Bard cited a mental break from baseball as a major reason for feeling like he can put last year behind him:

I didn‘t think about baseball much for about two months. I think that was the best thing for me, just to break some of those bad habits that I built mechanically. I picked up a baseball in December and started fresh. There’s nothing like a tough season in the offseason for motivation, just for working out, things like that. I think it was a productive offseason.

Abraham reported that Farrell warned against taking too much away from just one good outing:

I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. The one thing that we want to do is establish the aggressiveness first. If we have to make adjustments to gain more consistent command, that might be the case. First step is more from the mentality side of things.

Bard’s encouraging first action of the spring may have come across weaker competition, but it should be viewed as a positive nonetheless. A major component of pitching is confidence, and if he can forget his previous problems, he will be a lot closer to getting his career back.

Bard knows he has to make the Red Sox and fans believe in him again, according to a comment reported by WEEI’s Rob Bradford:

The last time I really came into camp with something to prove was my first big league training in ’09… It’s not that much different this year, besides the fact that everyone knows my name and knows who I am. But I feel like I have something to prove.

So far, so good. If Bard can continue building upon the small successes, he will hopefully find himself completely back and contributing to the Red Sox in no time.

Statistics via BaseballReference

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Boston Red Sox: Is Daniel Bard the Best Option to Replace Josh Beckett?

General manager Ben Cherington, manager Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox have their next big task on their plate—replacing the injured Josh Beckett in the starting rotation.

Boston placed Beckett on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed shoulder and has chosen reliever Franklin Morales to take his place tomorrow night, according Ian Browne of MLB.com.

It’s still unknown as to how long Beckett will be out for, but you can expect him to miss at least two starts.

Morales will start against the Chicago Cubs, but should Daniel Bard take any future starts that Beckett will end up missing?

Bard is currently pitching in Triple-A Pawtucket trying to find his feel for the pitching rubber.

He’s pitched in three games for the Paw Sox, getting roughed up in the opener and pitching better since. In four innings he’s allowed four earned runs on three hits, while walking two and striking out eight.

After transitioning into a starting pitcher during the offseason and spring training, Bard was about as bad as it gets in his first 11 starts. His June 3 start against the Toronto Blue Jays was the final straw, as he allowed five earned runs in 1.2 innings while walking six batters and hitting two.

Already in last place in the AL East, Boston can’t afford to give away any games. The team will need a starting pitcher to replace Beckett.

Franklin Morales cannot be the interim starter. He’s much too valuable coming out of the bullpen and the last thing they need is for him to get injured trying to go four innings.

I understand that they just found out about Beckett, which is why he’ll start tomorrow. But, that should be the only game that he starts.

That being said, Daniel Bard might be the best option that Boston has.

It actually would make a lot of sense.

If Bard comes back up to the majors and pitches well, great.

If not, then he goes back to the bullpen once Beckett is healthy. He gets around two more starts to prove that he can do it.

If he can’t, it was worth one last shot.

I know there’s a big risk of putting Bard back out there, but Boston has been losing games with the other four starting pitchers on the mound.

What’s the worst that happens?

There aren’t any other better options that Boston currently has.

They could go out and sign someone who just got released, but that doesn’t really solve anything. At least with Bard, there’s a shot at something positive for the future.

There’s no doubt that the Red Sox have their hands tied with this situation. But, it might be best if Daniel Bard’s final chance at starting comes while Beckett is on the DL.

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Boston Red Sox: Who Will Be the Starting Pitcher Come Saturday?

At last, the Boston Red Sox finally made a decision on struggling starting pitcher Daniel Bard.

They sent him to Triple-A Pawtucket to try and figure things out without hurting the major league club.

A move had to be made after he was taken out of the game in the second inning in his most recent start. The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham didn’t seem surprised by the move, as he didn’t even comment when tweeting it.

I’m glad they finally addressed the situation, but now the Red Sox have to worry about who’s going to start against the Washington Nationals on Saturday. This would’ve been Bard’s next start if he wasn’t optioned to the minors.

The first replacement who comes to mind is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who I made a case for just the other day.

Well, things happen and I’ve changed my mind.

Why, you ask? This tweet from the official Twitter of the Pawtucket Red Sox might clear that up.

That’s not the kind of start I was looking for out of the potential Saturday starter. Besides, he pitched so poorly, I think it’s going to be at least another start for Matsuzaka in the minors before we see him with Boston.

Abraham also chimed in on Matsuzaka’s performance.

I’ve decided to go with a less obvious approach for Saturday’s matchup. Why not just use the bullpen the entire game?

Here’s my plan if I’m Bobby Valentine:

Vicente Padilla for four innings.

Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales and Scott Atchison for four innings combined.

Alfredo Aceves for the last innings.

It may look crazy at first, but let me explain.

Vicente Padilla was a starter for the majority of his career. There’s no reason he isn’t capable of going four innings. He went four innings in Boston’s second game of the year, and has appeared in more than one inning in five of his 2012 appearances.

To ask Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales and Scott Atchison to go approximately 1.1 innings is a normal thing—manager Bobby Valentine asks for it on a regular basis.

Lastly, Alfredo Aceves is the closer. Going an inning, if Boston’s close or ahead, is cake for him. He loves to pitch.

Boston has a few days to figure out what they want to do. Maybe they’ll take my advice.

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Bobby Valentine’s Latest Bold Move: Sticking to His Guns

To the delight of many Red Sox fans across Red Sox Nation, we heard an announcement in the eighth inning of last night’s meeting against the Minnesota Twins: Daniel Bard was warming up in the bullpen.

As it was stated after the debacle—to put it extremely lightly—on Saturday, Daniel Bard was going to be made temporarily available out of the bullpen. Bard has made it clear: he wants to start, and this move will not involve back-to-back games nor will it push back his next scheduled start against the Chicago White Sox on Friday. “Temporary” appears to be the operative word.

But with one out and a runner on in the bottom of the eighth inning last night, in came our savior to squash any potential go-ahead effort by the Twins. And here came the biggest decision that Bobby Valentine has had to make since the regular season started: who comes in to close it out in the ninth? With Cody Ross’ home run putting the Sox ahead 6-5, and Boston in desperate need of a win—by any means necessary—Bobby Valentine had a bold decision to make: Daniel Bard or Alfredo Aceves.

It doesn’t seem like a season-altering decision, but think of the implications. If Bard stays in, the decision alone would shake Aceves’ already fragile confidence after giving up five runs without recording an out in Saturday’s game against the Yankees. Aceves is somewhat of a reluctant closer—a closer due to circumstance. If Valentine, so early in the season, were to go to Bard in a must-win, one-run save situation, it would be difficult to go back to Aceves and convince him that he’s the guy. Any trust that exists between the two, Aceves and Valentine, would surely be broken.

And what about Bard?

If he gave up the winning runs, then it would be easy to slide him back into the rotation. But what if he struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth? Then Bard is suddenly the savior of the bullpen. How could Valentine justify moving Bard back into the rotation on Friday—again, Bard’s heavy preference—if he appeared as the symbol of stability and dominance in the chaos that is the Boston Red Sox bullpen?

Valentine made the right move going to Aceves to close out the game; he also was apparently able to lighten the tension after Aceves gave up what would have been a home run in most parks (Valentine may be the right man for the job yet). Sometimes the boldest decision is to stick to your guns and not succumb to the panicked cries for drastic and desperate change. Bobby V. has shown he isn’t afraid to rock the boat or make an unpopular decision—even if that bold decision is to not make a change.

Of course that brings us to the greater issue: the Red Sox pitching staff. Originally, I was a proponent of keeping Bard in the bullpen and sacrificing the role of fifth starter to the hodgepodge of low risk, high-reward veterans like Vicente Padilla or Aaron Cook. If a team has the opportunity to solidify one aspect of the game—be it hitting, fielding, starting pitching or bullpen—it’s probably the best move to eliminate that area of weakness.

Starting the season, the Red Sox’s bullpen had sneaky potential. (Follow me here for a second). The Red Sox had Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard coming back—two proven bullpen arms. Then they trade for Andrew Bailey (dominant when healthy) and Mark Melancon (probably not a closer like he was with the Houston Astros, but someone who could get some meaningful innings). Add to those four, two lefties from the trio of Rich Hill, Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller, and the bullpen is starting to take some meaningful shape. Finish it up with Junichi Tazawa or Chris Carpenter (a young pitcher who has some upside), and I feel comfortable knowing who I have to finish the game.

As usual, things never go as planned.

Andrew Bailey, living up to his reputation of being a health liability, is out until at least the All-Star break. Melancon gets shelled and is now trying to get things figured out at Pawtucket. Morales has shown flashes of dominance but is inconsistent. Rich Hill is still rehabbing, and Andrew Miller needs to prove he can be somewhat consistent with his performance in AAA to make the major league quad. Carpenter was on the disabled list before the season started, and Tazawa has just been called up and has been effective so far (at least something is going right).

That leaves us with Bard and Aceves. Aceves has been thrust into the closer’s role and appears to be still adjusting to it. His four-pitch repertoire seems more suited for the long man, flex guy out of the
bullpen that can come in in the fourth inning and keep the game close until the eighth.

Bard, on the other hand, is tricky to evaluate. Based on pure stuff, he’s a closer. But down the stretch last year, when the Red Sox needed him to be at his best, he crumbled posting a 10.64
in the month of September. Was it fatigue or nerves? So far, he’s looked pretty good as a starter. He held Tampa Bay to one run over 6-plus innings—and only gave up that run because he was left in two batters too long.

So where is Daniel Bard more valuable to this team? Would he provide a stabilizing force in the bullpen? Remember, he has been consistent in his desire to start; who knows the mental impact of being put in the bullpen against his wishes.

Bobby Valentine has a lot of decisions ahead of him regarding the 2012 Boston Red Sox. And while he certainly has made some gaffes with the media, his decision to stay with Aceves as the closer on Monday night was a smart one. In a chaotic environment where everyone was wanting Bobby Valentine to make the sexy choice and turn to Daniel Bard, he stayed consistent, knowing—hoping, maybe—that it would pay off in the long run.

Aceves may not be the answer at closer; Bard may not be best suited for the role of fifth starter. But decisions like these that affect the entire rest of the season and the makeup of the roster shouldn’t be made in moments of desperation.

But they’ll have to be made eventually.

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Daniel Bard’s Lack of Changeup Spells Doom for Possible Boston Red Sox Starter

Daniel Bard‘s success as a starter could very well prove to be the key to a 2012 playoff run for the Boston Red Sox.

Then again, he’s just as likely to be relegated back to bullpen duty.

But with two rotation spots up for grabs, all indications point towards the 26-year-old at least beginning the season in Bobby Valentine’s starting-five. As of this writing, Bard and fellow system-product Felix Doubront figure to fill the fourth and fifth spots, with 2011’s jack-of-all-trades Alfredo Aceves returning to the ‘pen.

Nothing’s official yet, but can they really send Bard back at this point? Assuming he has nailed down a starting role, what, if anything, has his performance in camp told us? 

Clearly, a lot of what happens in spring has to be chalked up to pitchers trying out new pitches, tinkering with arm slots, working out the kinks in their mechanics, etc. So the spirit of this exercise is certainly not to over-analyze stat after stat.

But a few things come to mind as we stare down the barrels of Opening Day.

First, the knock on Bard coming out of his role as a (generally) lights-out reliever was that he relied on just two pitches (a four-seam fastball and his bread-and-butter slider). He would have to redevelop and mix in an effective change to avoid tiring himself out while keeping hitters off-balance in order to be successful.

He’s now mixed in a two-seam fastball, a pitch he used frequently while at the University of North Carolina. Earlier this March, he told WEEI.com’s Alex Speier:

It’s a pitch I’m very comfortable with, going back to when I was in college. I probably threw more two-seamers than four-seamers this spring so far. I’ve been real consistent with the movement.


Okay, check. He’s got a second fastball down. But what about that changeup?

It seems as if he’s still struggling with it. In an interview earlier this month, broadcast on WEEI, the team’s flagship radio station, he stated (via The Boston Globe‘s Peter Abraham):

Fastball, slider – that’s where I’ve made my money the last three years…If I’m not 100 percent confident in those two pitches going into the season, then something is not right.

It doesn’t matter what my changeup is if my two best pitches aren’t fully ready. So I really went into this last [start] wanting to establish my fastball in the zone and use the slider as my put-away pitch.

In other words, it’s mission-not-accomplished at this point. Developing the changeup will be critical, as he can’t rely on his above-average velocity an entire two or three revolutions through an opposing lineup, like he did in his role as a setup ace.

But it’s not all bad news. He seems to be getting craftier with his slider. Sox shortstop Mike Aviles told Abraham:

He’s throwing his fastball 96 and he has two sliders from what I can see. He has one with a little bend in it and one that’s really tight.

With the second one, when he throws it a little harder, you have zero chance on that. It’s kind of like having an extra pitch. That’s some really good stuff.

While the news about Bard’s slider is definitely encouraging, I’m not sure it balances out his lack of changeup. Time will tell.

So, how has all of this pitch-selection juggling translated into his spring stats?

A 6.57 ERA over 24.2 innings pitched (the most on the team). Apparently those who claim “he can’t be worse than John Lackey was in 2011″ are wrong.

Okay, so that isn’t entirely fair. Earned run average is a skewed stat which means even less in spring training. According to FanGraphs‘ Mike Podhorzer and Matt Swartz’s evaluation of spring training numbers:

-Spring K% and BB% actually do mean something and may help identify breakout and bust performers for the upcoming season
-Good and bad springs carry the same level of significance and they should therefore be treated equally
-Spring ERA is completely useless

So, good news on the ERA. But we knew that already.

The bad news is, his peripherals are hurting as well. His strikeouts-per-nine are down to 6.57 from 9.1 last year, while his walks-per-nine are up to 5.84 (from 3.0). The drop in strikeouts can probably be explained as due to his dialing back his effort in order to last longer. Fine.

But his strikeout and walk percentages? The stats that may actually be a legitimate predictor of regular season performances? God-awful. His walk percentage has jumped from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 14.5 this spring, while his strikeouts have gone from 25.7 to 16.4 percent.

Will any of this mean anything in the end? Maybe not. But the numbers aren’t very impressive this spring, and the lack of an effective changeup is daunting.

Here’s hoping he can put it together.

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Boston Red Sox: Doubront and Bard Win Rotation Battle, Aceves to the ‘Pen

At last the waiting is over. Even though it hasn’t officially been announced, we now know who the two lucky winners of the spring battle for the No. 4 and 5 spots in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation are; Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard.

Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reported the upcoming pitching plans for the next couple of days that virtually leaked the starting rotation for the season.

According to Abraham, Clay Buchholz will start in a minor league game tomorrow. On Thursday, Alfredo Aceves will start against the Toronto Blue Jays and Felix Doubront will start in a minor league game. On Friday, Daniel Bard will start against the Minnesota Twins.

If all goes according to Abraham’s plan, the rotation would be set up as Lester, Beckett, Buccholz, Doubront and Bard.

Abraham notes that it probably isn’t a coincidence that Doubront will pitch in a minor league game instead of starting against the Blue Jays because the No. 4 spot in the rotation will face off against those same Blue Jays on April 9th.

If this serves to be true, Alfredo Aceves would start the season in the Boston bullpen and take the role of spot starter, if necessary. 

Doubront has had an excellent spring and truly won the spot in the rotation. In four starts he went 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 10 and walking six in 16.2 innings pitched.

The plan going into the spring was to transition Bard into a starting pitcher and even though he hasn’t done as well as many have hoped, he’s starting to get a feel for starting. In five appearances this spring, he’s 1-2 with a 7.23 ERA in 18.2 innings.

Although Alfredo Aceves had three great games to start the spring, he got hit hard against the Phillies, allowing nine earned runs on 10 hits in just three innings to eliminate him from contention.

It was a great race to watch this spring, seeing who was capable of what and who would start the 2012 season in the Red Sox rotation.

In the end, the best decision was made, with Doubront and Bard taking the No. 4 and No. 5 spots.

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Stephen Strasburg and 4 Other Young Starters with Innings Limits in 2012

Innings limits may not always be the most popular thing for managers and owners to impose, but they are definitely important in keeping young arms fresh and healthy.

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post that Stephen Strasburg will be on an innings limit this season. Strasburg will pitch every fifth day from the start of the regular season until he hits the 160-innings mark.

The Nationals will not tamper with his outings, allowing him to pitch as deep into games as he is able to. After 160 innings, though, the team will shut him down for the remainder of the season.

Strasburg is already one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, striking out 116 batters in just 17 starts. He’s walked just 19 batters and pitched to a 2.54 ERA.

His growth is nowhere near complete, however. Many feel he has even more room to grow. That’s why it’s a smart decision to keep him on regular rest while he works towards 160 innings.

Allowing him to pitch on a consistent basis will help him to learn how to adjust between starts and develop a routine on how to prepare on a day-to-day basis.

Nationals fans may not be in love with the decision, as they were hoping that this would finally be the season that the team makes a playoff push.

Strasburg will be essential in getting the team to that point, but he will almost certainly not be a part of the playoff roster if the Nationals can earn a spot.

Strasburg is not alone this season, as there are several other young hurlers who could be put on innings limits in 2012.

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Fantasy Baseball Sleepers 2012: Daniel Bard and High-Risk Starters

If you haven’t looked at it yet, just know that the starting pitching pool is pretty deep this season. Fantasy junkies everywhere should be looking forward to their draft, if they haven’t drafted already, of course.

There are some pretty good sleepers in the pool. I’m a big fan of Brandon Morrow and Brandon Beachy, and I’m of the mind that Madison Bumgarner could contend for the National League Cy Young this year. 

But this is not an article about sleepers you should be targeting. This is an article about sleepers that you shouldn’t be targeting.

There are five risky starting pitchers that spring to mind. I’ll count ’em down and explain why they’re so risky.

5. Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

Hiroki Kuroda has a career ERA of 3.45 in four season, he’s coming off a season in which he posted a career-low 3.07 ERA, and he’s joining a Yankees team that is going to score a ton of runs.

So what’s not to like, you ask?

A couple things, really. Despite his low ERA, Kuroda had trouble avoiding the fat part of the bat in 2011. His HR/FB rate climbed to a curiously high 11.3 percent, resulting in a total of 24 dingers hit off Kuroda. That’s not a huge surprise given the fact Kuroda’s ground-ball rate went from better than 51 percent in 2010 to 43.2 percent in 2011.

In his first three seasons in Los Angeles, Kuroda had a habit of posting an ERA lower than his FIP. In 2011, it was the exact opposite. His FIP was 3.78, significantly higher than his ERA.

Keep in mind that all of this was happening in the National League West. The American League East is an entirely different animal, and the same is true of the American League as a whole. Kuroda will be very vulnerable in 2012.

4. Trevor Cahill, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trevor Cahill was one of the best-kept secrets in baseball in 2010, as he won 18 games, with an ERA under 3.00. The A’s enjoyed more of the same from Cahill in the first half of 2011, as he won eight games with a 3.12 ERA.

After the break, Cahill had an ERA close to 6.00, and hitters hit over .300 against him.

The key in Cahill’s regression for 2010 to 2011 was an increase in his BABIP (batting average on balls in play). In 2010, Cahill’s BABIP was .236. In 2011, it was .302.

That increase was bound to happen given Cahill’s tendency to induce ground balls, and it’s an increase a lot of fantasy experts saw coming. All they had to do was look at Cahill’s FIP of 4.19 in 2010, which was way higher than his ERA. In 2011, Cahill’s FIP was 4.10, pretty much even with his ERA.

In other words, the pitcher that we saw in 2011 is the true Trevor Cahill. The 2010 version of him was a fluke.

3. Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins

Fantasy players and experts alike would like nothing more than to see Ricky Nolasco recapture his 2008 form, which led him to a 15-8 record, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP.

Nolasco hasn’t been the same in the three years since, and that’s due in large part to bad luck. He’s consistently kept his FIP in the 3.00s, yet his ERAs have stayed steady in the 4.50-5.00 range. 

The trouble with Nolasco is that hitters just don’t seem to be fooled by his stuff anymore. His BAA in 2008 was .239. It increased to .259 in 2009, .273 in 2010 and .295 in 2011.

A steady regression like that can’t be blamed entirely on bad luck. At some point, you just have to shrug you shoulders and come to the conclusion that Nolasco just isn’t as good as he looked in 2008.

Somebody in your league will overdraft him based on that season. Don’t be that guy.

2. Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox

Now we’re getting into true wild-card territory, an area where Daniel Bard looms large.

Bard established himself as one of the most dominant relievers in the last two seasons, using his high-90s fastball and nasty slider to punch hitters out and set things up for Jonathan Papelbon. With his stuff, Bard was pretty much born to pitch out of the pen.

Bard will be starting for the Red Sox in 2011, mainly because they don’t have any better options. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Bard. We don’t know if his fastball velocity is going to hold up over six or seven innings, or if he can even last that long on a consistent basis. His secondary pitches will have to be better, and the fact that Bard has never really had to use them before means he’s dealing with quite the learning curve.

Somebody will go for Bard because of a) his fastball and b) the fact that he plays for the Red Sox. Don’t be tempted to beat anybody to the punch.

1. Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

If Bard makes the cut for being a risky reliever-turned-starter option, then it’s only fair that Neftali Feliz be put on this list for the same reason.

There are two reasons I’m ranking Feliz ahead of Bard. The first is that people are more likely to reach for him in your draft, and the other is that there are legit reasons to doubt his ability to handle starting duty.

The Rangers tried Feliz out as a starter last spring, ultimately deciding they liked him better in the bullpen. The experiment seemed to throw Feliz off, as he wasn’t throwing very hard in the first half of the season and he wasn’t striking hitters out like he did in 2010.

Feliz was more like himself after the All-Star break, but the pitcher we saw before the break was a precursor to the pitcher we’re going to see starting in 2012. He didn’t throw as hard and he wasn’t controlling the ball very well.

Hitters had an easy enough time hitting that pitcher in a single inning. Just imagine what they’ll be able to do over five or six innings.


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