Every season, Matthew Boyd’s name is seemingly at the top of the list among breakout candidates in the American League. Yet, until this season, Boyd’s numbers were rather pedestrian.
Acquired by then Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski as part of a deal involving David Price at the trading deadline in 2015, Boyd was considered a secondary prospect. Daniel Norris was the big fish. Almost four years later, Boyd has emerged as the jewel of the deal.
Now 28 years old, the Seattle area native is finally having that breakout season. Yes, the schedule is just barely a month old, but early indications point to Boyd posting his best year as a big leaguer.
Boyd’s fastball has never been overpowering. Throughout his career, his fastball velocity has ranged between 90-92 MPH. While that may not light up radar guns, in the context of his entire arsenal, it’s good enough. His fastball may be playing up this season because of changes he has made in his slider. This year, Boyd’s average velocity on his signature pitch has dropped considerably compared to just two years ago. In 2017, Boyd’s average velocity on his slider was 86 MPH. This season, he is throwing it much slower, averaging 79 MPH. The result has been more ground balls and softer contact.
According to Fangraphs, the reduced slider velocity is also producing more swings and misses and less contact overall. Compared to 2017, contact percentage for opposing hitters has dropped from 79% to 70%.
No one has ever viewed Boyd as a strikeout pitcher, but early this season he ranks as one of the top strikeout artists in the American League. Through his first eight starts, Boyd has recorded more strikeouts than Justin Verlander, James Paxton, Chris Sale and Trever Bauer. That’s impressive company.
Once again, we can point to his revamped slider as a reason why. Only four pitchers in the American League have thrown more sliders this season than Boyd: Collin McHugh, Jacob Junis, Chris Sale and Masahiro Tanaka. Only McHugh and Sale throw the pitch at a slower velocity.
It seems like a minor tweak, but Boyd’s new breaking ball has upped his game. It also forces the Tigers to make a decision about his future. Do the rebuilding Tigers sell high and deal the talented lefty for another piece to feed the future, or do they keep him in the fold to lead the future rotation. It’s a tough call. Boyd is under control for another three years, end will not be eligible for free agency until the 2023 season. These days, team control is priceless for major league organizations.
There is no question that the strength of the Tigers system is a generous stable of high-end pitching prospects. Names like Casey Mize (last year’s top overall pick), Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Spencer Turnbull (big league club) give the Tigers plenty of options for the future. Beau Burrows and Franklin Perez have battled injuries, but remain highly thought of. The volume of arms in the minor leagues may make it easier to trade Boyd.
Only time will tell what the Tigers decide. In the meantime Matthew Boyd’s value rises every fifth day.