It may be fair to say that Matthew Boyd has rarely been the most exciting pitcher in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. From the moment he arrived from Toronto, he felt like a sidekick to more touted prospect Daniel Norris, and even as he entered the Major League rotation, he still seemed like a back-of-the-rotation starter at best.
With the farm system now loaded with multiple strong arms who all have bright futures, it is easy to envision a rotation without Boyd. All of these sentiments may be justified, but feel slightly unfair toward a pitcher who has been in the top five of games started for the Tigers each of the past three seasons and currently leads the club with 23 starts this year.
Why are these sentiments justified? Look no further than Boyd’s career numbers. Since reaching the majors in 2015, he has started 78 games with a 5.08 ERA, 4.67 FIP, and 1.37 WHIP. His 19.4 strikeout rate and 7.9 percent walk rate are not doing him a ton of favors, and he has never been a great innings eater. Everything about his numbers screams “No. 5 starter.”
This is why the start of 2018 was such an encouraging sign for Boyd. He looked great in his first eight starts, tallying a 3.23 ERA and 3.94 FIP. These numbers led the Tigers rotation and started to turn some heads across the league. Perhaps he was finally becoming the pitcher Detroit hoped they traded for.
Unfortunately, digging a little deeper into the stats told a different tale. During the first two months of the season, Boyd’s strikeout and walk rates remained no better than his career norm. His home runs per nine innings and BABIP were much lower, however, signifying some positive luck and a likely regression.
All of that luck vanished over his next five starts. Simply put, Boyd was awful from mid-June to mid-July. He gave up six home runs over 23 innings and saw his BABIP soar to .359. The strikeouts were oddly up, but his hard hit rate rose too. The result: a 9.78 ERA and 5.42 FIP. Run prevention metrics do not tell the whole story always, but here they do the job.
After a solid start to the season and a horrible middle, the outlook for Boyd’s end to 2018 was not too rosy. A crash back to reality solidified to doubters that he basically is who he has always been, and simply had a lucky stretch to start the season.
Last 5 Starts
Boyd is on a mission to prove that idea to be false. Over his last five outings, he has been on an absolutely tear, averaging over six innings a start and featuring an outstanding 2.37 ERA and 2.73 FIP. A five-game sample is not everything, but there are some encouraging signs. The peripheral numbers spell this out, but so do the details underneath.
Over the past month, Boyd has been more reliant on his fastball, throwing it over 50 percent of the time. He has increased its velocity, and opponents have just a .152 batting average against it, making his four-seamer his toughest pitch during this stretch. His slider has also been a weapon and has helped boost his strikeout rate, and batters are recording just a .056 ISO against it.
On the whole, Boyd’s 2018 numbers may look only moderately better than his career figures, but he is giving glimpses into what he actually could become. A strong month and a half to close out the season would be huge for a pitcher who is still trying to put it all together and a Tigers rotation that still offers a few question marks.
Baseball does not allow magically erasing five bad starts from a rough stretch, but if Boyd can prove that his-season meltdown was an anomaly, Tigers’ fans should feel very good about what lies ahead for him over the next few seasons. The arrows are trending upward for Boyd going into the final stretch, and could set him up for another strong season in 2019.