Five months ago, Matthew Boyd was long-tossing in neighborhood parks around his Detroit-area home to keep his arm ready for a potential season while baseball was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was even kicked out of one because playgrounds were supposed to be closed.
So in that context, simply getting to and through a season is a victory for Boyd, who spent weeks helping get the Tigers to a point where they could play as the team’s representative for the MLB Players Association. Nobody on the team arguably has a better grasp of the world outside baseball than he does.
That said, Boyd would’ve liked better results on the field. He’ll finish the season with a 6.71 ERA, highest among qualified Major League starters by a full run (former Tiger and current Met Rick Porcello is next at 5.64). Boyd's seven losses lead the American League. Barring something crazy, he’ll become the first pitcher to lead the league in home runs in consecutive seasons since Eric Milton in 2004-05, and the first AL pitcher to do it since Brad Radke in 1995-96.
At the same time, this could well end up being among the most important seasons in Boyd’s development as a pitcher. After leaning heavily on his fastball and slider last year, and paying for it down the stretch, he became more of a four-pitch pitcher in 2020 by reviving his changeup and honing his curveball.
“Ever since that blowup in Chicago [in mid-August], it’s been consistently getting better and better and understanding my game and getting back to what I do,” Boyd said after his six quality innings Saturday earned him a win against the Royals. “This is another step. Now, there’s going to be a few more days between starts.”
Boyd dealt with minor injuries through much of the process, from a tight hamstring sustained in Summer Camp to plantar fasciitis in his left foot over his final few starts. He also dealt with a self-inflicted challenge when he accidentally flattened his fastball while trying to increase its spin rate.
Add in an inconsistent slider that Boyd had to adapt to survive on the mound.
“We relied on the other stuff more,” Boyd said, “and because of that, I learned how good my stuff is, and how to pitch with stuff. The slider’s not lost; we’ll just keep working with it this offseason and it’ll be pretty special when all of them are firing.”
Boyd threw fastballs or sliders with 86 percent of his pitches last year, according to Statcast. This season, that combination dropped to 71.6 percent. His changeup usage nearly tripled from six to 17.2 percent. His curveball nearly doubled from four to 7.2 percent, and a nearly 300 rpm rise in the curveball’s spin rate helped result in a near 4 percent swing-and-miss rate.
While the end results were ugly, the metrics suggest Boyd was, in some ways, a better pitcher this year than last.
“This is a constant work in progress,” Boyd said, “and this happened for a reason. The changeup was something we leaned heavy on, and because of that, it really opened my eyes to how good that pitch is. Same with the curveball. So there’s a lot of blessing in this year, a lot of ways to grow from it, and I’m really thankful for that.”
• As expected, the Tigers placed shortstop Willi Castro on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder soreness, allowing them to activate infielder Sergio Alcantara from the taxi squad.
• Miguel Cabrera was out of Sunday’s lineup for what interim manager Lloyd McClendon called a “well-deserved day off.” It was Cabrera’s second game off this season.
• McClendon declined to comment on whether he has discussed his future with general manager Al Avila. McClendon is expected to be considered for the full-time job along with several candidates outside the organization. Avila traveled with the team this week for end-of-season discussions and evaluations.