Though less heralded than Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd was just as important of an acquisition at the 2015 trade deadline. He made 10 starts for the Detroit Tigers down the stretch because of a floundering rotation, and while the results were not stellar, there was plenty of hope for a promising future.
Boyd started out the 2016 season in Triple-A Toledo and appeared to be on track, posting solid numbers including back-to-back scoreless starts. A couple of weeks later he was promoted to Detroit, but the results have not been as hoped.
Since joining the Tigers in late May, Boyd has made four starts -- he also made a relief appearance in April but returned to the minors after just one outing. His 4.91 ERA and 5.38 FIP have been disappointing, as well as his inability to pitch deeper into games -- just once has he completed at least six innings. The expectations for Boyd are no more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, but he is barely performing at that level during his most recent stint.
It seems like many of Boyd’s problems from last season in Detroit have continued into 2016. In simplest terms, command issues have brought upon elevated walk and home run rates, which have produced unappealing ERA and FIP numbers. Boyd showed no signs of this problem when starting the year in Triple-A. His 2.44 BB/9 and 0.56 HR/9 were certainly expected to rise when facing major league competition, but the inflation he has experienced in Detroit was not as hoped.
Boyd’s 8.7 percent walk rate is actually better than Fulmer and Mike Pelfrey’s, but Fulmer boasts a higher strikeout rate and a much lower home run rate, and Pelfrey’s struggles have been well documented. Boyd has actually decreased the amount of balls he has thrown in 2016 from 38.1 percent last season to 35.4 percent. When looking at starting pitchers over the past five years, a 35.4 percent ball rate typically corresponds to a 6.6 percent walk rate. Boyd's 8.7 percent walk rate shows that he has been walking batters more frequently than expected.
The bigger problem, though, has been his home run rate. While Boyd’s 2016 rate is better than his mark during the end of 2015, only one qualified starter since 2012 has had a HR/9 over 1.75 -- Ervin Santana, with a 1.97 (!) HR/9 in 2012. One of the key reasons for this high figure is his 16.7 percent home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB).
Boyd would fall into the bottom 2 percent of all qualified starters since 2012 with this figure, which becomes even more problematic given his tendency to allow fly balls. While his 53.8 percent fly ball rate in 2015 has dropped to 39.0 percent in 2016, his horrible HR/FB rate makes this many fly balls extremely dangerous. In comparison, qualified starters since 2012 with fly ball rates at 39 percent or above have averaged a 10.2 percent HR/FB, much lower than Boyd's current mark.
Boyd is still just 25 years old with less than 20 major league starts, so he still has time to make positive strides. However, at this point in his development he is not quite ready for a full workload in Detroit, as his success in Triple-A has not been transferable to the majors. As long as his walk and home run tendencies remain toward the bottom of the league, keeping him in the rotation is neither beneficial for the Tigers nor his own development.