In a Detroit Tigers season laden with injuries to the starting pitching staff, it’s clear that the pieces that are still healthy are going to have to step up.
So far, with the exception of somewhat rough starts in each of their last outings, both Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd have done just this, carrying their weight and more as the likes of Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Matt Moore, and Tyson Ross sit on the injured list, watching from the sidelines.
He’s always had potential
Boyd showed flashes of his capabilities, with a near no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in 2017 and a largely strong 2018 season. What the lefthander has shown so far in 2019, however, is above and beyond anything that could be asked of him. Not only is he shaping up to be an ace up the Tigers’ sleeve, he is also showing himself to be one of the best southpaw starters in the majors this season.
Expected to be the third man in the rotation behind Fulmer and Zimmermann, Boyd, along with Turnbull, has suddenly become the headliner of the 2019 Tigers’ edition of the old “Spahn and Sain, then pray for rain” mantra.
And for good reason.
Just looking on the surface at Boyd’s numbers, it’s hard not to be impressed. In nine starts he is riding a 3.15 ERA (2.84 FIP, 3.69 xFIP) and an 0.99 WHIP to go with 65 strikeouts while walking 13 batters in 54 1⁄3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .203 against him, hitting with less power than they have in the past, as he has surrendered just 0.83 home runs per nine innings, the lowest rate of his career. When opposing baserunners do get on against him, he manages to get out of trouble, stranding them at a 74.5 percent rate.
And a simple eye test, as well as a deeper dive into the numbers, shows that this isn’t just some stroke of dumb luck.
Boyd has shown legitimate swing-and-miss stuff through his nine starts this season, boasting a 30.02 percent whiff-per-swing rate (Whf/Sw) on all pitches, which falls into the top 20 among all starters (eighth among lefthanders) who have thrown 500 or more total pitches.
Like most starting pitchers, Boyd has relied most heavily on the four-seam fastball, accounting for 426 (49.8 percent) of his pitches. With an average velocity of 91.6 miles per hour, this pitch has accounted for a 21.76 percent Whf/Sw (13th among lefties, 43rd overall) and has held opponents to a .204 batting average against (13th). However, when opponents do get a hold of it, there’s damage, with a .398 slugging percentage and .184 isolated power (ISO) against his fastball.
Put simply, his fastball has been fairly effective. But it’s not his out pitch. Luckily, Boyd has another one that can pick up the slack: his slider.
He has relied heavily on it, as 311 of his pitches have been of this type (36.3 percent). It has been his most effective pitch, and is turning him into one of the more effective starters not only in the American League, but in baseball at large. While employing the slider, Boyd’s Whf/Sw sits at 39.13 percent, 14th among all pitchers who have gone with the slider 200 or more times. This rate is sixth among lefties, ahead of the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. He has also held opponents to a modest .192 BAA (fifth among lefthanders) with it, as well as a .282 SLG (fourth among LHP) and .077 ISO (fourth among LHP).
Boyd has also featured a curveball (50 pitches) with the occasional sinker (35 pitches) and changeup (34 pitches), though there are not enough data to compare these offerings with his fastball and slider.
A Boyd in the hand...
What to do with Boyd in the long-term has been the source of debate among Tigers fans both on Twitter and in our circle of readers. In the midst of the rebuild, the idea of trading a left-handed arm that is this effective and controllable — he is not set to hit free agency until after the 2022 season — is appealing, permitting the right deal with a return haul that at least equals his value comes along.
However, at 28, Boyd is in the midst of what are his prime years. For what could be an absolute bargain, when talking about the money of it, he would serve well as a left-handed foil to the powerful, right-handed likes of Fulmer, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning in the years ahead, as well as a needed veteran presence.
For now, Tigers fans need not be concerned with what the years beyond 2019 may hold for Matthew Boyd. Rather, they can sit back and, at least every fifth day, enjoy the show while they have a sense of confidence in the man taking the mound and leading the charge.