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Tigers vs. Angels Preview: Matthew Boyd looks to continue strong start to 2019

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Boyd has been among the league’s best pitchers this season, which naturally leads to some... interesting conversations.

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MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

At what point do we start having The Conversation about Matthew Boyd. You know... the Cy Young conversation. Every rational part of my brain says “It’s too early” and that we don’t have enough of a sample to accurately say that Boyd has fully turned the corner. The 2019 season is just over a month old, after all, and we have seen plenty of would-be contenders (for both individual and team accolades) fall short by even the All-Star break, let alone season’s end. After all, the Tigers were just a game back of first place on May 15, 2018, and finished the year with 98 losses.

But Boyd’s breakout doesn’t feel unsustainable in the slightest. If anything, he is underperforming his advanced metrics right now. His 2.10 FIP is the second-best in baseball among qualified pitchers and best in the American League, as is his 1.9 fWAR through 44 13 innings. His 32.0 percent strikeout rate trails only eight other qualified pitchers, and only three AL starters have bested his 25.8 percent K-BB%. The changes he made to his slider and pitch mix were apparent from day one, and speak to a pitcher that has truly figured things out.

Will that result in any postseason accolades? It’s far too early to tell — he seems like a near-lock to be Detroit’s All-Star representative this summer, at the very least — but it will be something we keep a close eye on throughout the season.

Los Angeles Angels (16-19) vs. Detroit Tigers (15-17)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tyler Skaggs (3-2, 3.12 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (3-2, 3.05 ERA)

Game 33 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Skaggs 26.0 22.9 7.6 4.22 0.4
Boyd 44.1 32.0 6.2 2.10 1.9

Tyler Skaggs has long been considered a breakout candidate in sabermetric circles. Between injuries that have limited his on-field contributions — he has logged just 467 major league innings despite making his debut all the way back in 2012 — and an inability to match his ERA to superior peripherals, Skaggs has always felt like a pitcher that has not lived up to his potential. The breakout talk reached a fever pitch this offseason after Skaggs took noticeable steps forward in 2018, namely improving his swinging strike rate to a career-best 11.0 percent.

While he has posted a shiny 3.12 ERA so far, one could argue that he has actually taken a small step back this season. His whiff rate has returned to career norms, and he is getting fewer batters to chase outside the zone than at any point in his career. His contact rate against has returned to pre-2018 levels, and his strikeout rate has taken a slight step back.

Skaggs is also giving up more hard contact, and his home run rate is a bit elevated compared to previous years. However, three of the four home runs came in one start, an outing in which he sprained his ankle, which required a quick trip to the injured list. He has not allowed a homer in either of his two starts since returning, but has issued six walks in 11 innings.

Key matchup: Angels hitters vs. left-handed pitching

When the Tigers announced that Tyson Ross’ start had been pushed back from Thursday to Friday, one could argue that they did so with this series in mind. The Angels have been abnormally bad against left-handed pitching this season; as a club, they have a 75 wRC+ that ranks 13th in the American League. Their .130 ISO against southpaws is also third-worst among AL teams. Even in scoring four of their five runs against left-handed pitching on Tuesday evening, the Angels were only able to collect singles and walks against Daniel Norris and Jose Fernandez. One hopes Ryan Carpenter can take advantage of this in his outing on Thursday.

In the meantime, the Angels will have to deal with Boyd, whose credentials are detailed above. Boyd has been particularly harsh on left-handed hitters this season, limiting them to a .496 OPS in 32 plate appearances. But past issues against right-handed batters have also gone by the wayside. He has racked up more than five strikeouts to every walk against righties this year, nearly matching his 5.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties.

Prediction

Boyd and the Tigers win a low-scoring affair to even the series.