Star prospect Daniel Norris has been the major focus of the Detroit Tigers' deadline acquisitions in 2015. However, it was Matt Boyd who was able to take every turn of the rotation over the seasons final two months. The overall results weren't pretty, but Boyd at times showed why he had begun attracting serious attention over the past two seasons. The question for Boyd going forward is whether or not he can sand down the rough edges in his game and become a viable mid-rotation starter for the Tigers in years to come.
This season, Boyd threw 57 1/3 innings in the major leagues, mostly with the Tigers. He compiled a ghastly 7.53 ERA and 6.59 FIP in those innings, but it would be a mistake to judge him too harshly on those numbers. Not only was there the factor of being traded to a new team with a new set of catchers, but Boyd also threw 170 innings total over the course of the season. That is a heavy workload for a rookie, and, coupled with leaps from Double-A and then Triple-A, to the majors, would make one unwise to consider writing him off. In truth, Boyd has come a long way in a fairly short amount of time.
The 6'3", 215 pound left-hander is a graduate of Oregon State, and was selected in the sixth round in the 2013 draft by the Blue Jays. After a solid short season in 2013, Boyd torched the Advanced-A ball level in the first half of 2014, but was victimized by an unlucky strand rate and BABIP numbers upon his move to Double-A. Yet, throughout those first two seasons, he posted excellent strikeout rates and very low walk rates.
When the 2015 spring camps opened, Boyd showed up with a markedly improved fastball, possibly attributable to his offseason conditioning work with a weighted ball. His formerly 90 mile-per-hour fastball was instead registering in the 93 mile-per-hour range. Boyd rode this more formidable fastball velocity to huge success in Double-A, tossing 73 2/3 innings with a 1.10 ERA and 2.67 FIP. His move up to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in June continued that success with a 2.77 ERA and 3.46 FIP over 39 1/3 innings. The one blip on the radar came with a distinct spike in his home run rate with the Bisons, beginning a theme which escalated once he was traded to the Tigers.
The key flaw in Boyd's game with the Tigers was a disastrous home run rate. He's always shown solid command and low walk rates in the minors, so the elevated walks may well be the result of the home runs making him rather gun-shy. More than anything else, Boyd simply hung a lot of pitches up in the strike zone where major league hitters consistently made him pay a steep price.
In his mid-season scouting report on Boyd, John Sickels of Minor League Ball identified a weakness that I and others noted during his tenure with the Tigers. A key feature of Boyd's delivery is a high leg kick and a tendency to tilt back heavily over his rear leg before moving to the plate. A move like that makes a pitcher slow to the plate, making him easy to run on. It also puts an extra burden on that leg which may produce fatigue and balance issues over the course of a start.
The other product of such a pronounced tilt is the difficulty in catching up to his leg drive to throw on a downward plane. When Boyd's timing isn't right, he hangs a lot of pitches as a result. This is an issue that he's going to have to get under control in order to have real success at the major league level. That high leg kick and tilt probably produces some deception to the hitter, but he's going to have to moderate its excesses in order to consistently keep the ball down in the strike zone.
Still, Boyd jumped two levels to the majors in 2015, and growing pains are to be expected, especially late in the most demanding season of his nascent career. He appears to have very good composure on the mound, and the work ethic to take the next step in honing his delivery. If he's to have a career in a major-league starting rotation, he'll have to make those adjustments.
Another trade acquisition, Boyd has shown flashes of strength. That being said, he could use some more time in the minors to develop and solidify his instabilities on the mound. When he gets the ball down his pitches are deadly. But when left up as has been the case a lot, Boyd has paid for it. In his time with the Tigers he's given the rotation some hope for the future but those should be tempered after he can iron out the kinks. If the Tigers' rotation hadn't been so strapped for pitching, he likely would have gone to Toledo instead of the rotation upon being acquired.
What to Expect in 2016
While Steamer projects Matt Boyd to have a season that could qualify him for a fifth starter spot on many teams, Tigers GM Al Avila shows no sign of considering him for such a role. Boyd will likely begin the year with the Toledo Mud Hens and, depending on his performance, may be the first starter on deck should the Tigers' rotation need support. Boyd has better potential than most of the expected Mud Hens rotation. As such, he is unlikely to be a candidate for a relief role. If Boyd is able to refine his delivery, he'll provide solid depth to the Tigers' rotation, and the opportunity to win a spot in the rotation down the road.