As the MLB Winter Meetings wind down, the Philadelphia Phillies still feel at least a starter away, even after adding Zack Wheeler. Detroit Tigers LHP Matthew Boyd could be an interesting candidate to fill that void.
Prior to the 2019 trade deadline, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies “had conversations” with the Tigers regarding the 28-year-old lefty. The Tigers were seeking a haul for their first-time All-Star, one the Phillies – and the rest of the league – ultimately weren’t ready to put forward. Five months later, though, Jon Heyman of RADIO.COM says that Boyd is again drawing interest, and the Phillies make sense as a potential landing spot.
Starting with his contractual situation, Boyd fit well. Boyd will be entering his age-29 season while still having three years of club control. Spotrac’s current estimate on Boyd’s 2020 salary – which will be determined in arbitration, if arbitration isn’t avoided prior to that – is $6.4 million. While the Phillies don’t have a lot of wiggle room as they approach the luxury tax threshold, Boyd will certainly be worth more than that price. (And, at this point, luxury tax concerns will affect any potential addition.)
There are a few other things that make Boyd an interesting trade candidate, starting with the peripherals.
Boyd’s ERA ended up being 4.56 in 2019, due to a bad second half where he had a 5.51 ERA in 14 starts. However, Boyd did manage to have a slightly lower FIP at 4.32, and even better xFIP at 3.88.
A major knock on Boyd was that he dealt with issues with home runs last year, as he allowed a home run on 18.2% of fly balls – which was a career high. His career average for home run to fly ball is 13.8%, so there is a chance 2019 was an outlier.
A reason for the FIP and xFIP being lower is Boyd having a significant increase in strikeout rate, as he posted a career-best 30.2% strikeout rate in 2019. In addition to the elevated strikeout rate, Boyd also managed to lower his walk-rate to 6.4%.
The strikeout rate may coincide with a change in how Boyd is approaching hitters. Since 2017, Boyd has made some significant changes to his pitch usage and developed a true second pitch to give hitters issues. The year-by-year changes since 2017 are quite noticeable:
Since making the changes to his pitch usage, the peripherals have improved each year.
In 2017, Boyd had a 4.51 FIP, which he improved 4.45 in 2018 and followed that with a career-best 4.32 last season. Looking at his xFIP, that has also improved from 5.01 in 2017, to 4.72 in 2018 and a career-best in 2019 at 3.88.
The changes in those numbers mostly come from his strikeout rate improving from 18.2% in 2017 to 30.2% in 2019, while decreasing his walk rate from 8.8% to 6.4%. It validates Boyd going to the fastball, slider combination more each season.
There are two lines here that noticeably increase from 2017 to 2019 and that is Boyd’s fastball and slider usage. This has allowed Boyd to develop a plan of attack on the mound—one that the Phillies have asked their pitchers to use: fastballs up and sliders down. Here is a look at Boyd’s 2019 fastball usage when he had two strikes. The gameplan appears to be obvious:
Now, a look at the slider usage for Boyd in 2019 with two strikes:
In looking at these zone profiles, it seems like Boyd’s two-strike approach with these pitches perfectly aligns with what the Phillies front office and coaching staff pushed on the pitching staff last year. It would not require a philosophy change from his end coming into Philadelphia since he is already doing this successfully.
The biggest question in this equation isn’t whether the Tigers would be open to trading Boyd, but whether the Phillies are willing to part ways with top prospects. The Tigers are likely to seek a decent return for a controllable lefty under age 30. Boyd posted a 3.3 fWAR last season, which was a career-best and nearly the same as Aaron Nola, who posted a 3.4 fWAR.
Boyd would be around through the 2022 season, already uses a pitching strategy that aligns with the Phillies and would fill the void of a left-handed pitcher in their rotation. It isn’t a move without risk, but it could help push them toward a division title in 2020.
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