With Anibal Sanchez sidelined with inflammation and his history of getting injured, there’s been talk about possible replacements for him in the rotation. One of those replacements is Matt Boyd, who started 10 games with the Tigers last year after being acquired at the trade deadline. Both manager Brad Ausmus and Boyd's teammates are raving about how much better his slider is going to be this year.
Except, it was already good last year. In fact, it was probably his most effective pitch. According to Brooks Baseball, opponents were only hitting .158 against it last year while they were hitting over .300 against his four-seam fastball, changeup and curveball. Only three extra base hits were hit off of his slider (all doubles) for an ISO against of .079; against his four-seamer and changeup it was over .300 (yikes!). Thirty-eight at-bats ended in his slider, with 15 of them being strikeouts, for a rate of 39.4 percent – easily his best put-away pitch.
Brooks Baseball isn’t perfect. Two of his pitches were registered as cutters, and that particular pitch isn’t part of his repertoire. They were obviously misclassified. A similar situation could be happening here, where only his most effective sliders are actually registering as sliders, and all the bad ones are registering as curveballs. In the above link, Chris McCosky of the Detroit News quotes Ausmus as saying Boyd’s slider is "shorter and firmer and harder." This could explain his .308 batting average against and .539 slugging against on his cureveballs -- they were actually really poor sliders.
Why did he feel like he needed to improve on his already best pitch? Boyd claims that the pitch was inconsistent last year. However, looking at his game logs, there are really only two games where his slider failed him, his second start with Toronto and a game in early September against Kansas City.
According to Brooks 16.8 percent of Boyd’s pitches last year were sliders. If the rumors are true that this pitch is going to be a new and improved version this year, hopefully he’ll throw it more often and rely less on his other ineffective pitches. Pitching is also about setting up pitches, so maybe it’ll make his fastball and changeup more effective by mixing it up better and keeping hitters off-balance.
It’s weird when looking at the raw data that this pitch is something Boyd chose to focus on in the off-season, but it might be exactly what he needed to do to bring his game to a new level.