The Houston Astros are rumored to be on board for a deal to land Matthew Boyd in an attempt to augment a starting rotation that, while great, could use a little improvement. With Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole anchoring the rotation and Wade Miley serving well in his regard, we’ve got three guys we can really count on. But three guys does not a complete rotation make.
Brad Peacock is on the IL, and he’s been inconsistent anyways. Corbin Martin looks out for awhile. Forrest Whitley is hurt and not ready. Framber Valdez had his chance and didn’t impress. Collin McHugh’s days in the starting rotation may be over.
It’s really a matter of who else do we have to start games anymore. And that’s why Matthew Boyd has appeared on the trade radar, as the Tigers would surely be willing to shop him for the right offensive haul in return.
But not everyone is sold on Matthew Boyd, primarily because he has a home run problem and no notable history to speak of. We’ll address both of those issues, but let’s start with the home run problem.
Join the club
The Astros dynamic duo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole has a home run problem. Now, is that a good reason to get another guy that gives up home runs? Not unless you’re a sadist. But on the flipside, it’s not like those two are dragging the team down. Quite the opposite.
That said, this home run spike is league wide. Everywhere in the Major Leagues we are seeing more and more home runs being surrendered by guys that don’t traditionally give up home runs. Take Justin Verlander, who is surrendering twice as many home runs as he was giving up in his Detroit days. He’s currently averaging 1.7 HR/9.
Gerrit Cole is tied for a career high too, surrendering 1.4 HR/9. Boyd is sitting pretty in the middle, with 1.5. Meaning that yes, he would fit right in on a rotation that is pretty damn good, despite the home runs surrendered.
It’s what these guys do outside of the home runs that makes them special. And Boyd is doing a lot of the same things. His strikeout numbers also happen to nestle in between Verlander and Cole and Boyd is less likely to give up free passes than either one of the two. He has a LOB% right in the middle and a WHIP right next to Cole’s.
And now it’s time address the other issue—track record.
Hi, name’s Randy Johnson, nice to meet you
Matthew Boyd is not Randy Johnson. Let’s get that out of the way. But he might be in the midst of doing something that Randy Johnson did.
The Big Unit, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, didn’t start to stand out until he was 30 years old. Despite ending his career with a FIP of 3.19 and averaging 10+ K/9, he wasn’t always the unstoppable, dove-killing fireballer that he is now unanimously known as. Before his big, breakout year in 1993, his FIP hovered at 4.00+ for three years before dipping to 3.6 the following year and then down to 3.05, where he would remain for the rest of his career.
Boyd’s FIP the past three years prior to 2019 hung out in the less-than-desirable 4.00+ range, but it has dropped to 3.5 this year, and I would bet that, one move to Houston later, we’d see it drop, like Randy Johnson’s did, to the 3.00 range.
What changed for Randy Johnson was his control. He hovered around 4-6 BB/9 before it clicked in 1993 and dipped down to around 3 BB/9. He could continue to improve on control, getting it as low as 1-2 BB/9. He had found his sweet spot.
Matthew Boyd has seen a similar progression in his development. He went from 3+ BB/9 to 1.8 this year. A sharp drop-off like that may strike some as unsustainable, but as Randy Johnson proved, sometimes you just need it to click, and for Matthew Boyd, it may well have just done that.
Similarly, his K/9 also clicked into place. He’d never gone over 8.4 K/9, now he’s rocking out at 11.4. And again, people wonder if this is a fluke, or if it’s sustainable. That’s okay, I don’t blame you. But let me assuage that doubt a bit.
Gerrit Cole had never averaged over 9.0 K/9 until he came to Houston, at which point it blew up to 12.4 last year and continued up to 13.2 this year. These things happen. The fact that Boyd only has half a season of dominance under his belt doesn’t disqualify him from having many more seasons ahead of him. What this really comes down to is if you trust the scouting of the Luhnow team. Honestly, I don’t see how you could doubt it. If Luhnow wanted to sign a 67-year-old slow-pitch softball pitcher from his local church league as our new closer, I’d buy into it. He’s earned that much.
Boyd is building the foundation of a dominant starter. The fact that he hasn’t shown hints of that up to this point may just as easily be a sign of poor development, lackluster coaching or a bad team situation as a sign of him not being good enough, or of this being a fluke.
The grass is always greener... no really, it is
The Detroit Tigers are not in a good spot, and that can have an effect on guys. Look at Justin Verlander, for instance. His last year with his long-time home was not a good year. Nearly all of his stats had ballooned above where they had been after over a decade of proven dominance.
His FIP tickled 4.00, his opponent average danced with .250, he was walking more batters and giving up more home runs than he ever had before. It was clear that he needed a change of scenery, and Houston provided that.
That fresh start brought peak Verlander back. And as mentioned, that fresh start brought Gerrit Cole into a new light too. Two pitchers who have been so highly regarded found new life, an even more dominant life, in Houston. All because they came into a much better situation. They developed, they improved, they became machines.
Matthew Boyd is not in a good situation in Detroit. They can’t back him with runs, so no matter how well he pitches, sometimes it’s just out of his hands. Coming to Houston would see him improve. If it was enough to improve Verlander and Cole, it’s enough to improve (or rather, continue to improve) Matthew Boyd.