Detroit — The likelihood of a Matthew Boyd reunion in Detroit grew infinitely stronger the day Scott Harris was hired as the Tigers president of baseball operations.
It was Harris, then with the Giants, who signed Boyd last offseason for $5.5 million, even though Boyd was coming off flexor tendon surgery and wasn’t going to be available until later in the summer.
Well, that reunion has come to pass.
Sources confirmed to The Detroit News on Thursday morning that Boyd and the Tigers agreed to a one-year deal worth $10 million and incentives. Boyd will be back in the rotation he anchored for the better part of six seasons (2016-2021).
Boyd, going into his age-32 season, returned to Comerica Park with his hometown team the Seattle Mariners last August and got a rousing ovation from the fans when he came in to pitch a scoreless inning.
“You guys are going to love Scott,” Boyd said during an interview in Seattle in October. “He’s really good at what he does. His attention to detail is amazing. The conversations we had in the clubhouse — he’s just so in tune with everything. He knows what’s going on. He’s going to be great for the Tigers.
“He finds a way to get wins in every aspect of the ballclub and make it a well-tuned machine. I am looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do there.”
Now Boyd will play an active role in that. He adds immediate stability to a rotation that, before today, had only two locked-in starters: Eduardo Rodriguez and Matt Manning, who was limited to just 12 starts in 2022.
The hope is that Spencer Turnbull, coming off Tommy John surgery, will also return to the rotation.
Boyd, who battled a hamstring injury in 2020 and forearm/flexor tendon issues in 2021, allowed just two runs in 13.1 innings out of the Mariners bullpen last season and made one appearance in the postseason. He made 143 starts with the Tigers and averaged just under six innings per start.
He seemed on the verge of a career break-out in 2019 when after 12 starts he posted a 2.85 ERA. He faltered a bit after the fast start and ended up with a 4.56 ERA and allowing a league-most 39 home runs. Still, he finished with a 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs) and a career-best 238 strikeouts (11.5 per nine innings).
Before the lockout in 2021, he’d made some significant adjustments, both in the shaping and usage of his slider and changeup. He had a 1.94 ERA in his first seven starts, limiting hitters to a .203 average and one home run until the arm issues started to creep in.
Harris certainly took note of Boyd’s ability to miss bats. From 2019 through 2021, his chase rate was over 30% and his swing-and-miss rate was 28%. He also had a low walk rate. During his short time with the Giants, using the club’s pitching lab, Boyd further refined his slider and changeup.
In his 10 games with Seattle, hitters were 2 for 14 against his slider with a 34.6% whiff rate and 0 for 7 on his changeup, whiffing on 59% of his 36 pitches. His four-seam fastball had good life, too, sitting at 93 mph.
These are the kinds of deals Harris has built his reputation on — signing pitchers who are either coming off injury or sub-standard performance. He took succesful risks on Kevin Gausman, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani and others in San Francisco.
As for the $10 million price tag, the market for one-year deals for starting pitchers was set last week when the White Sox signed Mike Clevinger for $12 million.
And with Boyd, there are no questions about the intangibles he will bring. He was the unquestioned leader of the Tigers’ staffs from 2018 up until he was traded and has never stopped being a mentor to the young starters like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. He’s remained in close contact with both, especially with Skubal who is presently recovering from the same surgery Boyd came back from.
“Tarik is awesome,” Boyd said . “Tarik is hungry, man. Talking to him that night after surgery, he was already going guns a blazing. We will be in touch more as he goes through it, but I know both he and Casey are going to do everything they can to put themselves in a great position.”