Matt Boyd has been a diamond in the rough since the Tigers acquired him in the trade that sent David Price to the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline. The same trade that landed the Tigers Daniel Norris. Norris was considered the more promising prospect of the two, and as a result Boyd has been constantly overshadowed during his MLB career. Boyd showed glimmers of greatness — albeit in spurts — he often sank or swam at the MLB level, with his lack of experience showing frequently.
As 2017 rolled around Boyd was in the hot seat, in jeopardy of being taken out of the rotation. That all changed on September 17, when Boyd pitched 8 2⁄3 innings of no-hit baseball. Although he gave up a hit to the would-be final batter of the game, Boyd went on to retire the next batter to cap off a complete game shutout, both career firsts.
Not only did that start show what Boyd can do at his best, he made a statement that when he finally puts the pieces together he will be a pitcher that no team will want to face. Which is no small feat for a left-handed starter.
When adding up his 2017 numbers, Boyd finished with less than spectacular stats, in fact some of them are hard to look at. However, those types of struggles are common when you’re still making significant changes throughout the season like Boyd is. For someone like Boyd, they’re looking at the big picture and rather than aiming for the small, quick changes that just get them through their starts. He’s looking for a wholesale change that will push him over the top, and he may have finally found it towards the end of 2017.
The one thing that has been in a constant flux since the Tigers acquired Boyd is his mechanics, or more specifically his release point. Since coming to Detroit the organization has been helping him tinker his mechanics, and when baseball isn’t in season, Boyd spends a good chunk of his time at Driveline Baseball, a state-of-the-art complex in Washington state where the technology and training methods are as innovative as they are revolutionary. Thanks in part to both the Tigers and Driveline, Boyd’s mechanics changes are finally yielding significant results on the mound.
Take Boyd’s epic performance on September 17th which was just a couple of weeks after MLive published an article detailing massive changes to Boyd’s release point. The chart below shows those changes, highlighting each month of the season Boyd pitched for the Tigers.
Both Jeff Jones and Rich Dubee, the last two Tigers pitching coaches, knew there was more to offer with Boyd. They, along with Driveline, knew Boyd be a more devastating pitcher, garnering more break and movement on his pitches, and also that he had additional velocity in the tank that only need to be properly harnessed in order to be unleashed.
A somewhat slow and often vexing process, the signs of Boyd’s evolution into a legitimately feared pitcher are starting to add up. His velocity in 2017 was a tick below 93 mph and has increased by over a full mile per hour from what it was in 2015, according to Brooks Baseball. The chart below shows the evolution of Boyd’s release point from 2015 through 2017 and also displays the average velocities for each pitch type to show the results of the changes.
His movement has also changed in a huge way. From 2015 to 2017 Boyd’s four-seam, changeup, and slider all had an increase of at least one inch in horizontal movement. Only his curveball’s movement did not increase at least one full inch, but finished with an increase of .95 inches. Despite losing some vertical movement off of his pitches, his whiff rate on all four of the pitches he used in 2015 — he didn’t throw a two-seamer in 2015 — increased at least one full percent between 2015 and 2017. His slider saw the biggest change with a 4.84 percent increase in whiff rate between the two seasons.
The changes also affected his results beyond the pitch-level data. In the month of September, Boyd posted a 2.95 ERA and a .216 batting average against in 36 2⁄3 innings with 30 strikeouts versus 11 walks. His FIP through the month was 3.92 and his home run per flyball rate sat a comfortable 8.9 percent which were some of the best numbers he put up all season and even through his career. Furthermore he had five starts of at least five innings pitched while allowing two runs or less the entire season and four of them came during the month of September.
With his “stuff” finally coming together to form a solid foundation with the perfect mix of control and filthiness, Boyd is expected to build off his successful September when the 2018 season rolls around. He may finally have the breakout season that really puts his name on the league’s radar.