Matthew Boyd: Change For The Better

Motor City Bengals

Matthew Boyd’s new focus on the changeup may save his season.


Matthew Boyd’s career with the Detroit Tigers has unfolded in phases. Originally acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline, Boyd was considered something of a depth arm; the second piece in a three-pitcher package headlined by potential star Daniel Norris.

And that’s how he pitched for the next two seasons, when he shuffled between Detroit and Toledo, posting a 4.96 ERA in 200+ innings. He joined the rotation full time in 2018 and took a step forward, looking like a legitimate #4 starter.

Then in the first two months of 2019 his walk numbers dropped, and his strikeout rate exploded. He was legitimately one of the best pitchers in baseball. But then it all came crashing down again.

It would be wrong to call it a regression, because that implies he returned to his previous skill level. This wasn’t that. From June 1st, 2019 to August 12, 2020, he was the worst starter in baseball. The fall was just as swift and inexplicable as the rise.

There’s no doubting Matthew Boyd’s work ethic, makeup, and drive to be better. But baseball is a game of constant adjustments, and when hitters downloaded Boyd’s patterns last year he didn’t have an adequate counterpunch.

Boyd’s offseason plan was to improve his curveball, which he essentially abandoned last year after some ugly early results.  So far the returns on the curve are good:

Matthew Boyd Curveball

Year V Mov %vsAvg H Mov %vsAvg Velo Spin Usage
2020 64.2 5 12.7 24 74.6 2524 6.7%
2019 61.1 -5 14.6 17 72.2 2247 4.0%
2018 58.3 -10 14.5 28 72.1 2276 12.3%
2017 48.4 -18 12.3 11 74.6 2199 18.1%

He has managed to keep his above-average horizontal movement while dramatically increasing the spin and vertical movement on the pitch. Batters are hitting just .200 with no power against his curve, and it looks like an above-average offering. But he’s still not throwing it very often, and hitters continue to feast on his fastball (.422 wOBA) and slider (.406 wOBA)

Time For A Change

On Saturday Boyd held the Twins to two runs (one earned) on four hits, with six strikeouts and no walks over six innings. Yes, as is tradition in Tigers lore, he sacrificed one baseball to Nelson Cruz to appease the dark lord Pazuzu, but that was the lone blemish in an otherwise good outing.

Matthew Boyd’s numbers over his last two starts — 11.1 IP, 9H, 3ER, 1BB, 12K — have been strong. Tigers fans would certainly like to see a few more innings, and two starts doesn’t make for a turnaround, but he’s only had one two-start stretch this good since last June.

So what happened? Boyd changed.

In this video breakdown we mentioned that we’d like to see Boyd throw his changeup more. And then in the next start he did. He threw just 10 sliders against Cleveland, but tossed 23 changeups, the most he has thrown in a game since September 17, 2017. Boyd made 70 starts between that one-hitter and his outing against Cleveland, and he threw 10 or fewer changeups in 55 of them.

Boyd threw his slider 18 times and his changeup 17 times on Saturday — the first time he’s thrown them both 17+ times in a game since May 26, 2017. He drew just one swing-and-miss on a slider, but induced six with the change. The only hit he allowed on the pitch was a bloop single.

Is Boyd’s changeup suddenly a plus pitch?

Matthew Boyd Changeup

Year V Mov %vs Avg H Mov %vsAvg Velo Spin Usage
2020 36.8 4 15.3 15 79.1 1927 12.9%
2019 32.3 -10 11.4 -19 79.1 1956 6.0%
2018 34.6 -2 10.3 -19 78.6 1760 8.0%
2017 30.4 -6 13.7 5 80.9 1850 20.8%

We originally thought Boyd’s recent success was just a case of defying expectations. Hitters were expecting fastballs and sliders, because that’s what he has thrown for the last year, but he surprised them with changeups. There’s probably an element of truth to that, but boy, something has clearly…changed with this changeup.

Change For The Better

Matthew Boyd has added four inches of vertical break AND four inches of horizontal break to his changeup this year. Baseballs are only about three inches wide, so that’s a pretty significant jump — to hitters the baseball is finishing more than a balls-width lower and farther away than it used to. The doubled usage indicates a newfound confidence in the pitch.

For his part, Boyd doesn’t admit to any increased focus on the offering. As Evan Petzold reported in the Detroit Free Press:

“The changeup was just a few alterations we made, just like the curveball,” Boyd said about changes he made in spring training. “There wasn’t any focus on one or the other. It’s just like, ‘Oh, this is another pitch we can make better, let’s go do it.’ It’s been good.”

It’s too soon to say if Boyd has turned a corner, but the offseason plan to improve his curve and changeup seems to have worked, and he should probably keep throwing throwing his changeup 15-20 times a game. Maybe this is just a two-start blip for an unremarkable pitcher. But perhaps it’s the beginning of the next phase in Matthew Boyd’s career.

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