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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Matthew Boyd’s trade deadline audition continues

Every Boyd start will be heavily scrutinized before the July 31 trade deadline.

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Boyd’s outings have been must-see TV in 2019. The 28-year-old lefthander has enjoyed a breakout season, and ranks among baseball’s best pitchers in several key categories. He has one of the best strikeout rates in the game, and is fourth among qualified MLB starters strikeout rate and K-BB%. With the Tigers mired in last place and many of their prospects still a couple of years away from serious MLB action, Boyd has, naturally, been one of the top commodities on this year’s trade market.

Now, Boyd’s starts are must-watch events for a different reason. While his trade value is still quite high, a hot stretch could sway those on the fence to jump into the sweepstakes. Likewise, if he continues to struggle with giving up home runs — more on that in a bit — teams might be reticent to part with their top prospects before the new trade deadline.

Boyd’s recent performance has gone in both directions. He has a 6.03 ERA since June 1, and has given up 12 home runs in 34 13 innings. However, he also has 54 strikeouts across those six starts, a whopping 36 percent strikeout rate. He has racked up double-digit punchouts in his last two starts, the last of which snapped a five-game Tigers losing streak with Boyd on the mound.

Saturday’s matchup provides a different challenge for Boyd. He has historically struggled against the Royals in his career, though most of those poor outings came against a much different Kansas City offense than the one that will take the field in this game. He shut them down back in May, striking out nine in seven innings, but was tagged for five runs (four earned) in a four-inning start at Kauffman Stadium in mid-June.

Can Boyd bounce back against the Royals on Saturday?

Detroit Tigers (28-58) at Kansas City Royals (31-61)

Time/Place: 7:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (6-6, 3.87 ERA) vs. RHP Brad Keller (4-9, 4.47 ERA)

Game 88 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 107.0 32.0 4.5 3.55 2.8
Keller 110.2 15.9 11.3 4.60 1.2

Brad Keller’s last several starts have been a roller coaster of sorts. He tossed seven scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins on June 14, bringing his ERA down to 3.97. He followed that up by allowing seven runs in four innings against the Seattle Mariners, then threw three scoreless frames in a rain-shortened outing next time out. Next up? Six runs in five innings against the Blue Jays, followed by a wild start in Washington where he walked five hitters, but only gave up one run in 5 23 frames.

Long story short: I have no idea where this one is going. Keller doesn’t strike out many hitters, and has generated a paltry 8.0 percent swinging strike rate this year. Likewise, he has walked 11.3 percent of the hitters he has faced this year, a clip that would be high even for an elite strikeout artist. He has been able to dance out of trouble for the most part, however, thanks to a 50.0 percent ground ball rate. Not only has that resulted in 16 double plays — tied for most among MLB pitchers — but it also means he isn’t giving up many home runs. His home run rate of 0.73 per nine innings is roughly half the rate (1.44 per nine) that AL pitchers have allowed in 2019.

Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. the home run ball

As mentioned, Boyd has struggled to keep the ball in the park lately. This is nothing new for the 28-year-old, who has been a fly ball heavy pitcher throughout his career, but this recent stretch has given some pause when discussing Boyd’s trade value. He has given up 12 home runs since June 1, and eight in his last three starts alone, resulting in an ugly 6.03 ERA. His strikeout and walk numbers are still elite, though, so it feels like this might just be a blip on the radar.

Luckily, there are a few things working in Boyd’s favor in this game. The Royals have been one of baseball’s most homer-averse offenses, with just 90 dingers as a team on the year. This is the third-lowest total in the game, ahead of only the Tigers in the American League. Likewise, Kauffman Stadium has long been one of the stingier ballparks for allowing home runs — though it’s worth noting the Royals hit three homers against Tigers pitching on Friday.

Prediction

Boyd gets back in his groove and the Tigers even the series.