It’s a slippery slope for a young pitcher in March. The balancing act between working on certain pitches in spring training and pitching well enough to make the team.
Veterans have a clear advantage by spending spring training honing certain parts of their game if they choose. If Jordan Zimmermann wants to add a new pitch or work on fastball command, no problem. He has the track record and contract that provides him plenty of runway to work out the kinks.
If Matthew Boyd wants to work on his off speed stuff, he still has to get outs. In the end, he is trying to make the Tigers opening day roster.
Boyd has seemingly put an emphasis on refining his off speed arsenal this spring. His results have been good, so his outlook is rosy when it comes to projecting a rotation spot for the talented lefty.
Boyd grew up in Seattle and one of his boyhood idols was Randy Johnson. One of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball history, Johnson featured an upper 90’s fastball and devastating slider.
Boyd may not have the physical build or dominating stuff that Johnson possessed, but the Tigers lefty has plenty at his disposal. A 94 MPH fastball and an ever improving array of sliders and curveballs.
Two starts ago against the Yankees in Lakeland, Boyd threw a myriad of off speed pitches, curveball, sliders and changeups. On Thursday against the Phillies, he pitched off of his fastball more. The Tigers don’t want to see him abandon the heater in big spots. They want to see him challenge hitters more.
Yet, it was his curveball that made a giant leap in effectiveness last year. In 2016, opposing hitters batted .300 against his curveball, last year that number plummeted to .164. Moreover, the hard hit rate against his curveball and slider last year was a little over 13 percent. That was among the best in the American League.
With about one week to go in spring training, Boyd’s spot in the rotation appears to be a lock, especially with veteran Mike Fiers likely headed to the disabled list. It was a spot the he found himself in last season after posting a 3-1 record with a 2.10 ERA in spring training. Many, myself included, picked Boyd to have a breakout season. He pitched well last April, but a bumpy May in which he posted an 0-4 record and 7.28 ERA bought him a ticket to Toledo.
A year older and a year wiser, Boyd appears to be a better bet to sustain his spring success longer into the 2018 campaign. The opportunity to work on his craft this spring as opposed to concentrating more on just making the team should serve him well. With Justin Verlander now in Houston and Jordan Zimmermann working his way back from neck and back problems, the Tigers are counting on Boyd’s progress.
When the Tigers cut ties with Jairo Labourt this spring, it left Boyd and Daniel Norris as the only remaining pieces from the deal that sent David Price to Toronto in 2015.
The 2018 campaign will be his age 27 season. He has nothing more to prove in the minor leagues. Boyd has dominated the bushes to the tune of a career ERA of 2.49.
The hope is that he will establish himself as a dependable major league starter this year.