Detroit Tigers’ starter Matthew Boyd is having an excellent season, thanks to increased usage from his new-look slider.
The Detroit Tigers were not expected to have a great starting rotation this season. Outside of Michael Fulmer, the rotation consisted of two one-year rentals (Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano) one overpaid, under-performing veteran in Jordan Zimmermann, and one of Matthew Boyd or Daniel Norris. Norris has long been the better prospect, so many expected Boyd to embrace a bullpen role or marinate more in Triple-A.
Instead, Boyd has been the leader of a surprisingly good Tigers rotation. As of this writing, he is sporting a stellar 3.19 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.06 WHIP, 7.69 K/9 and 2.44 BB/9. All of those are career highs at the big league level.
The difference in Boyd’s performance can be traced directly to his slider. Over the last few seasons, Boyd has thrown his 85ish mile per hour slider about 11% of the time. This year, Boyd is throwing it about 30% of the time….although it’s only averaging 80.5 miles per hour. Huh?
Well, Boyd’s slider has undergone a transformation of sorts. Last year, the pitch had an average of 4.2 inches of horizontal movement, and moved straight across. Basically, what most sliders look like. This year, Boyd’s slider looks more like a 12-6 curveball, with just 0.4 inches of horizontal movement but 1.4 inches of downward, vertical movement.
The changes are working, as opponents are hitting a paltry .143 against his slider, compared to .379 last year. That’s a massive difference, and a huge reason why he is having more success this year.
However, there are some concerns that his production is not sustainable. Boyd’s fastball is also about three miles per hour slower than it has been in years past. This could change as the weather gets warmer, but for now Boyd is sitting a tick under 90 miles per hour with his…ahem….heater.
Opponents are hitting the fastball okay, but overall he has only surrendered a .261 batting average on balls in play. With the league average somewhere around .300, it seems likely that some of Boyd’s success has been good fortune. He also has a very low 4.6% HR/FB ratio, a number that will surely climb as the season goes on.
For now, Detroit Tigers fans should enjoy Boyd’s early season success. He has made adjustments at the big league level that are clearly working for him, and it has been fun to watch. While some negative regression may be coming his way, he will certainly continue to make adjustments and looks like a solid rotation piece for years to come.