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Tigers’ Matt Boyd is better than his high ERA indicates

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Boyd’s tendency to have the occasional rough outing belies how valuable he actually is to the Tigers.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Matt Boyd’s second start of the 2017 season could hardly have gone any better. He pitched six shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, allowing just one hit and striking out six to boot. His pitching accumulated 0.35 win probability added (WPA) in one afternoon.

The dazzling performance was almost enough to make fans forget about his first start of the season, which could hardly have gone worse. On April 6, Boyd only managed to go 2 13 innings while allowing five runs. His WPA in that game was -0.34, giving him a season-long WPA of +0.01. One could say that, in the most extreme way possible, Boyd’s 2017 season has been a wash so far.

This Jekyll and Hyde type performance is an exaggerated form of the inconsistency that Boyd displayed throughout the 2016 season. In each month that he made multiple starts last year, his ERA varied wildly.

Matt Boyd 2016 ERA by month

June July August September
June July August September
8.24 2.21 2.79 6.75

As it turns out, his poor months tended to be skewed by blowups in several starts. Boyd managed to allow 24 of the 49 earned runs that he gave up in 2016 in just four of the 20 appearances he made on the year.

On the flip side: in 15 starts and one relief appearance last year, Boyd was flat-out dominant. He posted a Verlander-esque 2.63 ERA in those outings, and the Tigers went 10-5 in the games he started. Nothing too shabby there.

This is reminiscent of Rick Porcello’s 2013 season, in an odd way. The two pitchers could hardly have been different at that point in their respective careers. Porcello was a low-strikeout, low-walk pitcher who relied on the ground ball to be successful. Boyd is a moderate-strikeout, moderate-walk pitcher who tends toward the extreme fly ball side of the spectrum. However, the two were both solid No. 5 starters that suffered from the occasional extreme blow-up. This skewed their seasonal numbers so that their rate stats lagged behind the perception of their performance.

As it turns out, there is some reason to believe that Boyd is more valuable to the team than his stats would indicate. By rate stats*, Boyd had a below-average 2016, with a 107 ERA- and 111 FIP-. This would lend credence to the belief that he provided below-average results to the team. On the contrary, he provided +0.19 WPA: not a fantastic measure, but above average. There may be something to be said for being good to dominant 80 percent of the time and horrendous the other 20 percent. After all, baseball is a game you only need to win 55 to 60 percent of the time, and the Tigers went 10-9 in Boyd’s 19 starts last year.

Perhaps as Boyd continues to make adjustments with pitching coach Rich Dubee, he will find the consistency with his delivery required to prevent the blowups from occurring. In the meantime, the Tigers will be happy to take slight below-average production and slightly above-average value from their number five starter.

*ERA- and FIP- are stats compiled by FanGraphs that compare a pitcher’s ERA and FIP, respectively, to the rest of the league while controlling for a number of factors. 100 is league average, with lower numbers indicating better performance, i.e. Justin Verlander had a 72 ERA- and 81 FIP- in 2016.