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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Can Matt Boyd finally solve the Royals?

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Previous attempts haven’t gone well, to say the least.

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Matt Boyd has generally struggled to adjust to life in the major leagues. There have been flashes of brilliance, to be sure. He was one of the Tigers’ more consistent starters throughout long stretches in 2016, and looked ready to take another step forward when he torched opposing hitters in spring training.

However, he just can’t quite put it all together. Even when correcting some issues — Boyd has lowered his home rate by a substantial margin this season — others have cropped up. For instance, opponents are hitting .314 against Boyd this year, and are reaching base at a .377 clip. His FIP has gone down, but the ERA has gone way up while his strikeout-to-walk ratio has trended downward.

At the center of these issues are the Kansas City Royals. No team has flummoxed the 26-year-old southpaw as often as Kansas City in his young career. The Royals have tagged Boyd for 30 runs in 32 23 innings, collecting 53 hits in the process. They single-handedly inflated his ERA by nearly a half-run in his final start of the 2016 season, a clunker in which Boyd didn’t retire any of the five batters he faced.

As with the rest of his career, there have been flashes. Boyd blanked the Royals for seven innings in his Tigers debut back in 2015, and tossed a quality start in a 9-3 Tigers win back in July. Can he find a way to solve them again?

Kansas City Royals (68-69) at Detroit Tigers (59-79)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jason Hammel (7-10, 4.80 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (5-8, 5.92 ERA)

Game 139 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Hammel 155.2 17.6 6.1 4.47 1.7
Boyd 103.1 17.9 9.3 4.58 1.4

When the Tigers last faced Hammel, things were starting to trend in the right direction for the mercurial righthander.

Hammel, a 34-year-old righthander, has a 5.02 ERA in 18 starts this year and has a 17.8 percent strikeout rate, his lowest since 2013. However, since the Tigers scored four runs off him in 4 1⁄3 innings on May 29, he has been much better. He has a 3.83 ERA in his last eight starts, with 41 strikeouts to 11 walks in those 49 1⁄3 innings. He is working deeper into games too, with all but one of those starts going into the sixth inning. He has a history of getting hot for long stretches — his first half in 2014 with the Chicago Cubs comes to mind — which could bode well for Kansas City’s playoff chances.

Kansas City’s playoff chances have not improved since then, but Hammel has. He tossed 6 13 strong innings against the Tigers in the aforementioned start, and has put together a passable 4.39 ERA in his last nine starts. Better yet, he has drastically cut his walk rate; he managed 38 strikeouts to just seven walks in that nine start stretch. Were it not for some home run troubles, his peripheral statistics would look even better.

Key matchup: John Hicks vs. sample sizes

Mikie Mahtook has drawn headlines as the Big Pleasant Surprise of the Tigers’ season, but John Hicks has also been a great find. He has been worth 1.0 fWAR in 46 games played — a better per-game pace than Mahtook’s 1.5 WAR in 99 games — and is hitting .315/.375/.546 with six home runs. However, he is currently running a .398 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and still only has 144 plate appearances under his belt. His numbers in the minor leagues this year are closer to what you would expect from a young catcher who has already been dumped by two other organizations.

But... what if it works out? I’m not suggesting that Hicks can maintain his 143 wRC+, but if he can provide above-average production at the plate and some defensive versatility — right field, anyone? — that’s a valuable bench piece to have going forward.

Outlook

If there’s anyone Tigers fans should be rooting for to have a solid September, it’s probably Boyd. Still only 26, he has already proven that he can provide solid back-of-the-rotation production for a healthy stretch of a major league season. The 2017 season has been a major letdown given what he flashed during spring training, but he can salvage it with a few strong outings down the stretch. Carrying a few good starts into 2018 could do wonders for his confidence, and give fans something to cling to during an otherwise melancholy season to come.

Prediction

Boyd struggles again and the Tigers drop another series.