Like their respective teams, Matthew Boyd and Marco Gonzales have been polar opposites this season. Boyd has been one of the Tigers’ best pitchers, with a 3.00 ERA in six starts. However, some advanced metrics aren’t quite as enamored with his performance (he has a 5.10 xFIP thanks to a low home run rate). Gonzales, on the other hand, is a statistical darling thanks to a 25.5 percent strikeout rate in 34 2⁄3 innings. He hasn’t fared quite as well when hitters make contact, though, and has a 5.19 ERA.
The teams are just as different. The Mariners have boasted one of baseball’s best offenses so far; they have a 105 wRC+ through 36 games, and are scoring over 4.5 runs per game. Five everyday players have a wRC+ of 120 or better, led by Mitch Haniger’s ridiculous numbers. The Tigers, on the other hand, are getting it done (sort of) with pitching. Their starting rotation sits fifth in the American League with a 3.96 ERA, including three pitchers at 3.51 or better. However, like Boyd, advanced metrics aren’t quite sold on this group.
Contrasting styles like this make games hard to predict, but also fun to analyze. What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? Does Seattle’s offense keep on clicking as they continue their road trip? Or does Boyd keep rolling in his best season to date?
Seattle Mariners (21-15) at Detroit Tigers (15-21)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Marco Gonzales (3-2, 5.19 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (1-3, 3.00 ERA)
Game 39 Pitching Matchup
Towards the end of spring training, I watched a video the Mariners released of catcher Mike Zunino talking his way through a bullpen session with Marco Gonzales. The video itself is fascinating, and gives great insight into what players talk about during these side sessions that we, as fans, rarely ever see.
What I didn’t realize is that it was a sign of things to come. After the bullpen (about 90 seconds into the video) Zunino and Gonzales discussed the cutter, a pitch Gonzales has rarely thrown during his injury-riddled time in the major leagues. That pitch has quickly become one of Gonzales’ go-to-offerings, one he threw 25 percent of the time in his last start. He is mixing it and four other pitches together in one of the tightest ranges I’ve ever seen — all five pitches have between 16 and 25 percent usage this season — en route to a gaudy 25.5 percent strikeout rate.
Normally, this would be reason to completely ignore Gonzales’ 5.19 ERA. His advanced metrics are far better than his actual results so far, and predict great things to come for the 26-year-old southpaw. However, those figures also assume that his peripherals will stay consistent. For all the strikeouts Gonzales has racked up so far, he only has an 8.9 percent swinging strike rate. None of his pitches have a whiff rate higher than 14 percent, and opponents are making hard contact 42.3 percent of the time (per Baseball Savant). We can’t even blame one bad outing for Gonzales’ struggles — he has given up at least three runs in five of his seven starts.
As the dust settles, we will probably see Gonzales land somewhere between the two camps. He probably isn’t as bad as that ERA suggests, but he also isn’t an ace-level pitcher who will continue to strike out one quarter of the batters he faces.
Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. a bunch of lefty mashers
The Mariners might only have a 105 wRC+ as a team against left-handed pitching this year, but their individual numbers are downright frightening. Mitch Haniger’s wRC+ shoots up from a gaudy 168 to an ungodly 190 in a small sample of plate appearances against lefties this year, while Nelson Cruz (158), Guillermo Heredia (145), Robinson Cano (126), and Jean Segura (120) have all fared well in their meetings against southpaws. Most of those players have great career numbers against left-handed pitching as well, and aren’t just one-year wonders on this front.
To his credit, Boyd has cut down his mistakes against right-handed hitters this year. He is limiting them to a .666 OPS so far, with just three home runs in six starts. Their .281 BABIP isn’t all that unsustainable, especially as they continue to hit loads of fly balls. Boyd has also been dynamite at home so far, with a 1.47 ERA and .523 OPS allowed in three games.
The offense hangs Boyd out to dry again.