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Tigers vs. Rays Preview: What’s wrong with Matthew Boyd?

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After a hot start in 2019, Boyd is falling back to earth, and August has been his worst month yet.

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Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s easy to point at Matthew Boyd’s recent struggles and shrug them off as an inevitable regression to his pre-2019 form. After all, the lefthander had a 5.07 ERA and 4.79 FIP in 460 big league innings prior to this season, with modest-at-best strikeout and walk rates to his name. That all changed early on this year, as Boyd started striking out the world en route to an All-Star worthy first half. At the break, he had a career-best 3.87 ERA with a whopping 142 strikeouts in 107 innings.

Since then, things have not gone so well. Boyd has a 5.77 ERA in his seven starts since the All-Star break. The Tigers have understandably lost six of those games, and Boyd is now pushing six weeks since his last win. The high strikeout rate has remained, however, as he has 50 punchouts in 39 innings and a 25.2 percent K-BB% that is nearly identical to what he produced in the first half. Even now, he ranks sixth among qualified MLB pitchers in both categories.

Given his still-elite strikeout numbers, Boyd’s struggles don’t appear to be simple regression. His issues with the home run ball may be a continuation from his early career — extreme fly ball pitchers tend to do this — but the overarching problem is something else.

One possible reason? Boyd’s release point has changed.

He stayed relatively consistent for the first few months of the season, but has since started to push his release point out even further away from the first base side of the rubber — think Chris Sale territory. Right-handed hitters have benefitted the most, improving from a .300 first-half wOBA to .354 since the All-Star break. Those righties have been responsible for eight of the 11 homers Boyd has allowed in his seven second half starts, and are a big reason why his ERA has gone from the mid-threes in June to nearly a full run higher than that over the past two months.

Fortunately, the Rays have had some trouble scoring runs against Tigers pitching in this series. Can Boyd keep that run going on Sunday?

Detroit Tigers (37-83) at Tampa Bay Rays (72-52)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation site: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (6-9, 4.38 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Richards (3-12, 4.50 ERA)

Game 122 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 146.0 31.2 5.7 4.10 2.9
Richards 112.0 21.3 10.6 4.74 1.1

Trevor Richards is a 26-year-old righthander who has spent most of his 2019 season (including all 112 big league innings) with the Miami Marlins. He faced the Tigers when the Fish visited Comerica Park in June, and struck out six over 5 23 innings in a win. It was one of several solid outings that Richards had with the Marlins, and one of the few that his offense actually scored enough runs to pull out a win. Elsewhere, they scored two runs or fewer in 12 of his 20 starts, a big reason why he led the National League with 12 losses in the first half.

After a few bad starts at the beginning of July, Richards was shifted to the Marlins bullpen, then eventually traded to the Rays, along with reliever Nick Anderson. Richards made three starts for Triple-A Durham following the deal, but totaled just 5 13 innings across the three games.

Richards’ best pitch is his changeup, a plus offering that he has used nearly 40 percent of the time this season. It comes in in the low 80s, and would be a perfect pairing to his four-seam fastball... were the fastball any good. His four-seamer sits in the low 90s, but is a below-average pitch. Opponents have hit .289 and slugged .487 off it in his career. It has been better this season, and the vertical movement on it (read: spin rate) is nice, but he doesn’t command it well enough to make up for the lack of velocity. That FanGraphs compared him to former Ray Jeremy Hellickson is telling.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs

That Hellickson comparison may not bode well for the Tigers. He owns a career 2.25 ERA in six starts against Detroit, with 32 strikeouts in 36 innings against Tigers offenses that were better than the one Richards will face on Sunday. He followed suit in his lone meeting against the Tigers this year, generating 13 swinging strikes on just 91 pitches, including eight on the changeup alone.

Meanwhile, the Tigers struck out 24 times on Saturday. Advantage: Richards.

Prediction

Boyd bounces back, but the Tigers offense falters in another series loss.