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Believing In Matt Boyd - Is A Breakout Season Approaching?

We’re nearly two full weeks into baseball’s regular season, and waiver decisions are already challenging. With several big name players already landing on the shelf early this year, we have to dissect whose hot start is worth believing in to fill our roster voids.

One of the names making a huge impact so far this season is Detroit Tigers starter, Matt Boyd. He holds a 2.60 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and is 1-1 on the young campaign including a career outing versus the Yankees in which he struck out 13 batters. Three starts into 2019, the southpaw already has 29 strikeouts to his credit in only 11.1 innings pitched. This production alone warrants a speculative roster spot even if he’s on a destitute ball club.

Daniel Norris was thought of to be the marquee piece in the haul that the Tigers received from the Blue Jays in the David Price deal from 2015, but it appears Boyd was the real gem in the trade deadline swap. After glimpses of prominence in 2018, we’ll dive into Boyd’s three-game sample size in 2019, as well as his previous history to see if this is the start of a breakout season, or if it’s just a couple of fortuitous outings.

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An Up-And-Down 2018

Boyd’s overall numbers in 2018 don’t stand out as a fantasy relevant player. He tossed 170.1 IP holding a 9-13 record, 4.39 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while striking out 159 batters. What hurt the lefty a season ago was his inability to keep the ball in the park. His 1.43 HR/9 was eighth-worst in the majors as he lived and died by the fly ball with an enormously high 49.9% fly-ball rate.

These numbers got worse as the season progressed, and it was a night and day difference depending on where he was throwing. His 0.92 HR/9 at his home field in Comerica Park was respectable, but when he pitched on the road, this number sky-rocketed to a 1.87 clip. Surprisingly his FB% is 4% higher at his spacious home park, so it’s more likely his 15.1% HR/FB rate on the road regresses towards his 11.2% 2018 mark this season.

The good news for Boyd in 2018 was that he did manage to set a new career-high in SwStr% (10.2%). He essentially ditched the changeup as it went from an 18.5% usage down to 7.7% in 2018. In exchange for the off-speed, he upped his slider usage from 11.9% to a whopping 31.1%.

Major leaguers have hit Boyd’s change to a .277/.336/.478 slash line, so it’s no wonder he threw it less often. His slider was also his best strikeout pitch in 2018 as he had a 15.8% SwStr%, the best rate of his whole arsenal. With this delivery, Boyd’s strikeout arm seems legit, and it should improve with more big league experience.


2019 Early Dominance

What stands out the most so far this season for Boyd is his impressively high strikeout total. His torrid pace is admittedly unsustainable, but it is encouraging nonetheless. His first start against the Blue Jays saw him attain a 17.7% SwStr rate and he followed that outing with a 22.5% rate against the New York Yankees when he struck out 13 batters in 6.1 IP.

Boyd has used his slider 37.2% of the time this season, and it’s staying on that elite 2018 pace with a 15.7 SwStr %. With this pitch in his back pocket, he has snuck his 91.1 MPH fastball by hitters. His Contact% on his four-seamer is at 71.0%, over 14% below his career rate, and his SwStr% on this delivery has nearly doubled from a 7.3% career mark to 13.4% this season.

Although the strikeouts are getting the bulk of his fantasy attention, we should take note he’s yet to serve up a big fly (knock on wood). It’s also worth mentioning that two of his starts came in the small confines of Rogers Centre and Yankee Stadium. Boyd has an above average average fly ball rate of 44.1% rate, and combined with his 8.3 Barrel% and 36.1 Hard Hit%, suggests he's getting lucky with no fly balls leaving the park yet.


Rest Of Season Outlook

There’s no debate that Boyd is off to a stellar start in 2019. His strikeout numbers are a bit elevated and may not hold this superb pace over the course of a season, but that’s not to say that they won’t still be excellent this year. If he can keep throwing his slider effectively and sneaking in his fastball when he needs to, Boyd will provide at least a K-per inning this season which holds tremendous fantasy appeal in itself.

The 28-year-old has limited the long ball so far this season which is his key to having a breakout year, but this improvement also seems less likely to hold. If he continues to limit long balls though, he'll keep his name in the conversation of a bonafide fantasy stud and it will help him earn trust with fantasy owners to strut him out there every week.

It seems inevitable that Boyd will have the odd game where he serves up 2-3 homers and gets rocked for more than a handful of runs. These types of outings will balance out because as we’ve seen so far, he’s legitimately capable of shutting down an offense and dominating with the swing-and-miss.

Boyd is unquestionably worth rostering for your fantasy pitching staff, but be aware that not every outing will be pleasant. He is trustworthy for his home starts, but we need more data to truly believe that he can reduce the number of fly balls and home runs like he has in his two games this season.

Boyd is currently owned in 65% of leagues, so if he’s available in your league, scoop him up, and if you already own him, don’t be discouraged by a bad game if one occurs in his next few starts. The only way to take advantage of a breakout player is to see it through from beginning to end, and with Boyd, it may be a roller coaster ride.