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Joe Boyle: Champ or Chump for Fantasy Baseball?

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We're down to the final week of the 2023 fantasy baseball season, and anything could happen. A great player could have a miserable week and cost you a fantasy title. An awful player could hit five homers and win you a title. Who knows?

Analyzing a player's track record is the best we can do right now, so we might as well take one last deep dive this season. Joe Boyle is a 24-year-old pitcher for Oakland slated to start against the Angels on September 29. He lacks prospect pedigree but put up outstanding strikeout totals throughout his MiLB career. That success has translated to MLB so far with a 0.00 ERA and 1.80 xERA over nine IP.

His xFIP is 5.02 and his SwStr% rates are middling at best, so Boyle is tough to project. Still, he might be worth rolling the dice on in fantasy. Let's talk about it.

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Scouting Joe Boyle

Boyle was selected in the fifth and final round of the 2020 pandemic-shortened draft. He was known for big strikeout and walk numbers as an amateur, and the scouting report on him as a pro hasn't changed that much.

FanGraphs gives Boyle's heater a 60 with the potential for 70 in the future, his slider is a 50 with a chance to become 55, and his curve is a 60 already. However, his command is dreadful with a 20 that's only expected to improve to 30 in time. The result is a mildly interesting prospect that failed to crack the team's organizational rankings at the beginning of the season.

MLB.com's scouting report reads similarly. Boyle's fastball gets an 80, the highest possible score. His slider is a 55, while his curve is a 50. His control only earns a 40, sadly, leading to a ranking of 22nd in Oakland's system. There is also considerable reliever risk given Boyle's lack of command.


Joe Boyle: Strikeout Machine

If we rostered fantasy players based on scouting reports alone, Boyle probably wouldn't be on the radar. Fortunately, we don't, and Boyle put up some intriguing numbers on the farm that are worth a closer look.

Boyle first reached the High Minors as a member of the Reds organization, pitching 26 IP for Double-A (Chattanooga) in 2022. His 4.85 ERA and 5.92 xFIP weren't very good and his 21 BB% was way too high, but his 26.1 K% was something. Boyle's 11.2 SwStr% doesn't immediately jump off the page, but those strikeouts still count.

The Reds sent Boyle back to Chattanooga to begin the 2023 season, and his production improved slightly. Over 84 IP, Boyle logged a 4.50 ERA and 4.68 xFIP with a 31.5 K% and 19.4 BB%. The walks were still way too high and his 11.7 SwStr% didn't support the K% surge, but fantasy managers have to pay attention to 30+ K% numbers.

The Reds included Boyle in the Sam Moll trade at the deadline, forcing him to back his bags for Double-A (Midland). He pitched 17 1/3 IP for Midland with a 2.08 ERA and 2.38 xFIP, dominating opposing batters with a 40.6 K%. His SwStr% jumped to 13.8, making it easier to believe in his K% surge even if it came in a small sample. He also got his walks somewhat under control with a 10.1 BB%, earning him a promotion to Triple-A (Las Vegas).

Boyle only pitched 16 innings for Las Vegas before making his big league debut, and the results were mixed. His 2.25 ERA and 27.3 K% were good, and his 13.1 SwStr% was virtually identical to his Double-A mark despite more advanced competition. However, his 5.05 xFIP wasn't special and his BB% ballooned back to 16.7. Oakland has a severe shortage of good players though, so he got a shot at the Show.

With above-average strikeout rates at every stop, we cannot assume that Boyle is a total fluke. At the same time, Boyle usually got hit hard and he doesn't have as much swing-and-miss as you would expect given his strikeout totals. It's one of the most confusing profiles in the history of this column.


Joe Boyle's Stuff

Boyle features a three-pitch mix. His fastball offers excellent velocity, averaging 97.7 mph and hitting triple digits at times in the majors. Sadly, it hasn't fooled big league hitters if its 4.4 SwStr% is any indication. Furthermore, its 48.4 Zone% is shockingly low for a pitch that's supposed to get a pitcher ahead in the count.

Boyle's slider is supposed to be his putaway pitch, but its 14.3 SwStr%, 42.9 Zone%, and 39.3% chase rate are all below average for a wipeout offering. Boyle's curve stands out for its 50 Zone%, but its 0 SwStr% is obviously a problem.

The result is a 7.2 SwStr% that hasn't stopped Boyle from putting up a 25 K% as a big leaguer. His 8.3 BB% isn't that bad either. This arsenal shouldn't work, but it does.


Should We Stream Joe Boyle Against the Angels?

Who a guy is facing is just as important as how good he is this time of year, and the Angels make for a fantastic opponent. The team is without Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, and Anthony Rendon, so the lineup doesn't have the firepower it once did. Ohtani's pending free agency and deadline deals gone awry are black clouds hanging over the franchise, and subsequent efforts to use waiver deals to get under the luxury tax threshold also failed.

The Angels cannot wait for the end of the year, allowing even a supporting cast as bad as Oakland's to give Boyle a W. Since Oakland is nowhere near postseason contention, he should also get a long leash that contenders won't offer once their playoff seeding is determined. If you need innings, you'll probably have to turn to noncontenders.

This author has no idea why Boyle piles up the Ks with the stuff he has, but he does. You're always playing with fire if you don't understand how a guy is doing something, but the track record is there. If you're protecting ratios or have a comfortable lead, stay far away from Boyle. If you need to make something happen, why not roll the dice and see if Boyle can be a Champ? He's only rostered in 4% of Yahoo! leagues.

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