After a couple of rough outings recently, Tigers starter Matt Boyd had a bounce-back outing on Tuesday, throwing five solid innings. His final line -- three runs on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts -- does not tell the whole story, though. Boyd was lifted in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game with two runners on base. He had only thrown 72 pitches, so one wonders if he would have been left to clean up his own mess if not for his pending innings cap.
Even after a step in the right direction, Boyd's results for the Tigers have been spotty at best. He now has a 6.75 ERA in 36 innings for the Tigers with a 6.40 FIP. The Tigers are 2-6 in games that he starts, and his seven-inning debut against the Kansas City Royals is his only outing of longer than six frames. Home runs have been a major problem, though his small sample numbers suggest that he is comfortable pitching at Comerica Park. He has shown flashes of being a usable major league pitcher, a valuable commodity for any team, but especially when there are payroll concerns elsewhere on the roster.
Part of Boyd's inconsistent results stem from an inconsistent delivery. When working from the windup, he takes his arms overhead while slightly arching his back, pausing briefly. He has a second psuedo-pause as he brings his right leg up high, then finally delivers the baseball. It's a somewhat unconventional delivery, but it works for him; Boyd's minor league results speak for themselves, even if he hasn't had immediate success at the major league level.
Boyd shows a slightly different release point with all of his pitches, with the curveball and slider coming out of distinctive arm slots. The curveball comes from overhead, Boyd's highest release point of his four pitches. His slider, on the other hand, is from nearly a three-quarters arm slot, creating more of a slurve-type break. Boyd's changeup comes out of a relatively consistent release point, which supports claims that it is his best pitch, even if his early results do not.
Then, there's the fastball. Boyd's four-seamer has been his most inconsistent offering this season, with a release point that varies from start to start and even pitch to pitch.
There is going to be some natural variation in release point from start to start, but Boyd's pitch-to-pitch variation is more than you would expect from a player with his skill set. Fellow lefthander Kyle Lobstein has shown some variation in his fastball release point this season, but other than his first appearance of the year, he has had a much more consistent fastball release point than Boyd this season.
Naturally, Boyd's inconsistent release point results in spotty location.
Pitchers can use their fastball in many different ways, but all of that red in the middle third of the strike zone is generally not a good idea. Boyd's fastball isn't missing many bats, and when he can't locate it, it's going to get punished. So, it comes as no surprise that opponents are batting .352 with six home runs and a .676 slugging average against his fastball in a Tigers uniform.
The above comparison to Lobstein is an interesting one, because I think it shows what Boyd can do when he streamlines his delivery. Opponents are hitting .295 with a .350 on-base percentage off Lobstein this season, a fair shake better than the .354 average and .400 on-base percentage opposing hitters have against Boyd.
The real difference comes in the power department, where Lobstein far outdistances Boyd. Lobstein has allowed seven home runs in 91 1/3 career major league innings, while Boyd has given up 12 home runs in 37 2/3 innings. Boyd's home run rate improves outside of the Rogers Centre -- he has only given up four home runs elsewhere -- but it's still more than double Lobstein's. Boyd's .298 isolated power (ISO) allowed is also more than double Lobstein's, at .140.
While Boyd and Lobstein are different pitchers, the former could benefit from a more consistent release point like Lobstein already has. His breaking pitches may still come out of different arm slots, but improving his fastball command will help make his fastball and changeup more effective pitches. He probably won't ever morph into a dominant ace a la Justin Verlander, but harnessing his command enough to limit opponents to a marginal amount of power could help Boyd become a more effective pitcher in the long run.