30 Aces in 30 Days — Matthew Boyd

With the return of baseball (hopefully) coming in the next couple of months, I want to take this time to feature each team’s “Ace”. The format I will be going by is worst to first, so I will be starting with the Tigers and ending with the Nationals. Because many big-name pitchers changed teams over the offseason, many fans will see new Aces leading their team’s staff. My goal is that this can give everyone something to look forward to when their top guy toes the rubber on Opening Day.

However, we start with a guy Detriot fans know quite well, but may not realize how close he actually is to a breakout.

After years of trying to induce weak contact, it seems Boyd decided to change his approach last season. Boyd went from a K% of 22.4% in 2018 to 30.2% in 2019. This is a trend in the right direction and usually correlates with success, but he did not see his ERA drop significantly as a result. It’s easy to say analytics failed him, but I would argue his transformation from a weak-contact pitcher to a swing-and-miss pitcher is not yet complete. There is one glaring issue I see that holding him back from a true breakthrough.

Boyd’s four-seam fastball is just a tick under major league average in terms of velocity, but his spin rate is not. Boyd averaged 2383 RPMs compared to the major league four-seam average of 2200 RPMs. And, not only is Boyd’s four-seam in the “high spin” category, but it is also highly efficient. Boyd is 95% spin efficient with his four-seam. This means his four-seam will experience much less “drop” than other pitchers given that he has a high spin rate, and most of that spin is in such a way that it translates to movement. This gives the illusion that the ball is “carrying” leading hitters to swing under it.

This “carry” is what four-seam fastball throwing pitchers want. It allows them to command the top of the strike zone and also allows them to tunnel their off-speed pitches to the lower corners of the zone. However, this is where Boyd struggles. When looking at a heatmap of where Boyd throws his four-seam, I see that he is mainly smack-dab in the middle of the strike zone. No reasonable amount of spin rate or velocity is really going to help a pitcher there. For Boyd to really break out, he should start focusing on the top third of the zone. It’s very apparent that his changeup and slider are above-average pitches, and throwing high four-seam fastballs will only make them better.

Boyd’s slider is his strikeout pitch. Last season he had an astonishing whiff rate of 43.4% on it. Why is that though? Well, he has what we call a “gyroscopic” slider. Or a slider that spins much like a football. This spin does not lead to the slower, more loopy break like a curveball, but a much later and sharper break. Boyd’s success with his slider alone has allowed him to become the Ace of Detriot.

His changeup is a pitch I wish he would throw more. It really is a great pitch for him. It moves very similarly to his four-seam horizontally, but it differentiates itself vertically as well as velocity wise. This allows his changeup to look very similar to his fastball until it falls off the table and hitters end up swinging in front of it or above it, leading to swings and misses, or weak contact if there is contact at all.

If Boyd can successfully command the top third of the zone with his four-seam, he can increase swings and misses against it, but also increase the effectiveness of his offspeed. Boyd is only one more small change away from breaking out as the Ace of Detriot and becoming a name to know around Major League Baseball.

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