As a fantasy player you must always be looking for the next guy to claim the closer role and when to make the jump. Obviously with a deal set for 2010, Jonathon Papelbon is set at the closer role this year unless injury occurs, but many have speculated that Daniel Bard can not only replace him, but be as good. Minor league track record will be a start, but we have some trouble comparing these numbers since Papelbon was primarily a starter in the minors.
Both players received their major league debuts at 24 and entered their age 25 season ready to break spring training with the team. Papelbon of course struggled with injuries that year, but we’ll just look at what their minor league numbers look like.
Bard did start in his first season, but was atrocious at Single-A and high A. His K/BB at both levels was 0.60 with an insane 9.4 walks per nine innings. That is in 75 IP and was a big reason he hasn’t started since. He turned it around quickly though in 2008 as he returned to A ball as a reliever and absolutely dominated.
In 28 IP at A ball he had a K/9 of 13.8 and a BB/9 of 1.3 and moved up quickly to Double-A where he proved he could continue to pitch well, despite struggling with walks. His BB/9 rose to 4.7, but he still showed a dominant ERA at 1.99. After a short 16 IP in Triple-A starting 2009 he did show the great K/BB skills again at 5.80. All together as a reliever he threw a 13.1 K/9 and a BB/9 of 3.36.
It’s tough to judge relievers in the minor leagues as they have so many small sample sizes at so many levels. Let’s see how this compares to Papelbon when he was in the minors: Papelbon threw plenty of innings due to being a starter and should be able to see his skill, but must remember that pitchers gain strikeouts when moving to the pen.
Papelbon had some very good numbers in the minors. His K/9 was 9.7 across all levels, but fell to 8.6 at Double-A and Triple-A in 2005. While his strikeout rate has now climbed to over 10 he did show he would have good control with a 2.5 BB/9 across all levels.
This maybe the biggest difference between the two. Bard has a slightly lower level of control and will result in a higher walk rate. This means he needs to maintain his elite strikeout levels of 2008 and 2009 just to have K/BB numbers near Papelbon’s best.
Bard’s numbers did follow this pattern so far as he held a K/9 of 11.5 last season, but his walk rate was at 4.0. Papelbon did have a similar first year with a walk rate of 4.5. Will Bard follow in his path and show better control this year? That’s unclear, but even if he’s not pitching like a perfect clone of Papelbon he’s going to be the closer of the future.