A name that comes up time and again in trade rumors is the Detroit Tigers’ Matthew Boyd, and with good reason. He is a left-handed starting pitcher who showed periods of dominance in 2019. He has really good stuff, but has yet to put everything together over a full season. Going into to his age-29 campaign in 2020, might he be ready to break out?
That has really been the question over the past couple of seasons. Looking at the first half of the 2019 season, Matt Boyd was quite good for a bad team. He pitched to a 3.87 ERA over 107 innings. He struck out 142 batters while walking just 20 (27.5% K-BB%). His WHIP was 1.12 and his xFIP was 3.38 in the first half of 2019.
Things changed in the second half of the season. He still struck out a lot of guys while walking few of them, but he was unable to keep up the same pace as he did in the first half of the season. The result was a ballooning of his pitching numbers (ERA - 5.51, WHIP - 1.38, and xFIP - 4.57). Boyd went from very good to pretty bad.
His Achilles seems to be the home run ball. He gave up 39 home runs in 2019 (1.89 - HR/9), with 20 coming in the second half of the season. That is a jump from previous seasons. In 2018 he gave up 27 home runs (1.43 - HR/9), which is not great, but more palatable. However those strike out numbers were no where near as good in 2018 as they were in 2019 (8.40 K/9 in 2018 vs. 11.56 K/9 in 2019). For video and pitch type thrown for all of Matthew Boyd’s home runs given up in 2019, take a look here.
So we know that Boyd has a problem with giving up home runs. Might there be an easy answer to correct the problem if a certain small market club with a penchant for combining analytics and player development to bring out the best in a player (especially a pitcher) were to acquire him? Generally there are no easy answers to such an issue, and if Milwaukee were to acquire Boyd, their intervention would likely be multifaceted. Even so there are some things to note about Matthew Boyd when he gave up home runs in 2019.
When Boyd pitched in Comerica Park in 2019, his HR/9 were 2.71 as opposed to just 1.18 when pitching away from his home park. I do not need to do regression analysis to know that this is a significant difference. Might getting the volatile left-hander out of Detroit stabilize those home run totals? Just to counter this thought process, in 2018 Boyd gave up 19 of his 27 home runs allowed AWAY from Comerica Park. With that in mind, he is probably just volatile and investigating why that might be the case would likely be a better use of time.
Boyd utilizes his slider quite a bit. In fact, the quality of his slider was really good in 2018, with a wSL grade of +17.7 runs above average. It was still good in 2019, just not as much as his wSL fell to +9.4 runs. The ball utilized by MLB in 2019 affected a number of pitchers with really good sliders adversely (Jhoulys Chacin, Miles Mikolas, and Mike Foltynewicz for example). It would not be a surprise to see the ball change again in 2020. Might the change in ball impact a pitcher like Boyd favorably by increasing his slider and even his fastball quality?
Boyd tended to give up home runs earlier in counts and when at an advantage. His home run totals tended to take place when his through count was 1-0, 1-1, and 0-1, which really tells us nothing until we find out that Boyd gave up very few home runs when he was deep into counts. That means when he gave up a home run, he rarely got to counts like 3-1. 3-2, 2-2, or even 2-0.
Matt Boyd gives up home runs early in his pitch sequence against a hitter. With his walk numbers being so low, might he be over-emphasizing throwing strikes earlier in the count? Could it benefit him to throw “pitcher’s pitches” earlier in the count and even when he is ahead? This statement should only be taken as only possible, but Boyd might be very predictable early in his pitching sequences or he overly concerned with getting the ball over the plate to the point he is not commanding the zone effectively earlier in counts. A good pitching development group could rectify that.
Matthew Boyd looks like the type of pitcher that has another level of performance that has yet to be tapped. As a result, the Detroit Tigers are asking for a lot for him once citing the Jose Quintana package as their target earlier in 2019. The Tigers were once asking for a lot for another pitcher that had a better track record than Boyd, Michael Fulmer. The asking price was so high for Fulmer that the Tigers reportedly rejected packages that included Javier Baez and Alex Bregman respectively. Decisions like this suggest that Detroit might be stubborn to the point of harming that team’s future, so it will probably be difficult to pry Boyd out of the Motor City.
Boyd’s value around the league is probably less than what the Tigers place on him. At the same time, could Detroit’s experience with Fulmer nudge their front office towards something more reasonable regarding Boyd? If that were the case, could the Brewers be a team that could acquire him? With a farm system rated near the bottom, Milwaukee would not be the odds on favorite to get him. Yet you never know. Boyd is controllable through 2022. He is relatively young, and he is the type of player the Brewers bring to Milwaukee and make better.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant