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Tigers at Indians Preview: Is Matthew Boyd broken forever?

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The start of the 2020 season has been a disaster for the once presumed ace.

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

When the Tigers called up Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize earlier this week, some thought this could represent the team trying its best to compete in an expanded-playoffs season, adding arms to a rotation that so desperately needs them. With Ivan Nova on the injured list, Michael Fulmer still ramping back up, and any warm body filling the fifth spot in the rotation, it is no secret what the team’s weakness is.

However, one place that no one was expecting Detroit to need help was at the top of the rotation. Though Matthew Boyd faded down the stretch in 2019, he entered July with plenty of excitement and promise. Five starts later, he has been smashed to a 9.64 ERA and looks barely capable of serving as a fourth or fifth starter.

A big theme for Boyd has been home runs, which also plagued him last year. His 2.3 home runs per nine innings in the second half of 2019 has jumped up to 3.0 this season, and while his strikeouts are up, so are his walks. If Boyd cannot keep the ball in the park it is hard to see him being a usable pitcher long term, and even if he has been a little unlucky so far, he no longer looks capable of being a top-line starter.

For those looking for any sense of hope, Boyd did appear better as he closed out his last start. After allowing back-to-back homers to start his outing — for the second start in a row (!!) — he wound up retiring the final seven hitters he faced, including five via the strikeout. Yes, he only went four innings, but if he could just find a way to stop conceding long balls, he might have a chance to pitch deeper into the game.

Detroit Tigers (10-14) at Cleveland Indians (16-10)

Time/Place: 7:10 pm, Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: LHP Matthew Boyd (0-3, 9.64 ERA) vs. RHP Triston McKenzie (7-4, 2.68 ERA in 2018 Double-A)

Game 25 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 23.1 23.5 8.7 6.85 -0.2
McKenzie (Double-A) 90.2 24.0 7.7 3.62 n/a

For the second time in four days, the Tigers will be facing a pitcher making his major league debut. Like Dane Dunning, Triston McKenzie also enters the contest having not pitched since 2018, as he missed the entirety of last year with a shoulder injury. Once a top prospect, drafted 42nd overall in 2015, his shine has worn off a bit due to health issues. Still, the 23-year-old has some potential.

McKenzie is not going to overpower many hitters, as his fastball sits in the low 90s, but it does have some good movement. He has decent command and has never walked a ton of batters, but like Dunning it has been a while since he has faced any sort of real competition; he did not even make any appearances back in spring training.

The young righty does not have a huge repertoire, so McKenzie may be limited to a bullpen role in the long run, but Cleveland is smart to give him a start or two and see how he fares. Chances are he does not go too deep on Saturday, but against the struggling Tigers offense anything is possible.

Key matchup: Boyd vs. a quickly setting in reality

The story on Boyd is pretty well-known at this point, but as a quick refresher:

  • Mar-Jun 2019: 3.63 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 11.08 K/9, 1.77 BB/9, 1.58 HR/9
  • Jul 2019-Present: 6.48 ERA, 5.57 FIP, 11.44 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, 2.52 HR/9

It seems fairly obvious that Boyd had a great start to 2019 that was not representative of his true ability. Sure, there are some underlying numbers that are a little more favorable than his final statlines, and the eye test shows that he still has some good pitches in his arsenal, but it is also possible that fans simply want to believe that he is better than his is and are clinging onto that hot start from last year.

Boyd is better than a 6.48 ERA; this is obvious. But as poor start follows poor start, one has to wonder if mentally he will be able to overcome this. He is easy to root for and would have a place within the Rotation of the Future, but it may be time to recognize that he is just an innings eater (and not very effective at it) unless he can make a huge turnaround.