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Why Boyd is an intriguing trade candidate

Tigers lefty offers strikeouts, club control
@AndrewSimonMLB
July 17, 2019

As the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches, Madison Bumgarner is perhaps the biggest name flying around the rumor mill. The left-hander has the track record, the notoriety, and the postseason heroics, and he is putting up solid numbers in 2019. But there is another southpaw who has been a popular

As the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches, Madison Bumgarner is perhaps the biggest name flying around the rumor mill. The left-hander has the track record, the notoriety, and the postseason heroics, and he is putting up solid numbers in 2019.

But there is another southpaw who has been a popular subject, and who may be a far more enticing -- if somewhat under-the-radar -- trade target over the next two weeks.

That would be the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd. The Padres may be interested, as MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi wrote recently. Forward-thinking contenders such as the Astros, Braves, Dodgers and Rays all have been tracking him, according to The Detroit News. Boyd would make a great deal of sense for the Yankees as well, wrote MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.

Yet the price for Boyd would be high. MLB.com Tigers beat writer Jason Beck has reported that Detroit likely would seek “multiple impact prospects” in a deal.

So what’s all the fuss about? After all, Boyd is 28 years old, has never been an All-Star and entered this season with a 5.07 career ERA. His most basic, old-school numbers this year -- a 6-7 record and 3.95 ERA -- don’t excite. But they hardly tell the whole story.

Here are five things to know about one of July’s most intriguing trade possibilities.

1) His contract is enticing

Boyd is not a rental, which makes him attractive to teams looking to bolster their rotations not only in 2019, but beyond. It also means the Tigers should be reluctant to part with him unless they can score a tantalizing return, believing that he still could be a part of the next contending Detroit club when the organization’s rebuild bears fruit.

Boyd is earning a relatively modest $2.6 million in 2019, the first of his four arbitration-eligible seasons. He’ll be under team control through '22, although his salary will escalate during that time, especially if he continues to pitch well.

Bottom line: A club acquiring Boyd has a chance to add a front-line starter for the stretch run and for the next three seasons at a below-market rate.

2) He’s all Ks and no BBs

The best thing a pitcher can do is get strikeouts, but up until this year, Boyd had not excelled at that. His strikeout rate last year was a career high but still just 22.4% -- almost exactly MLB average.

This year, here is a complete list of qualified pitchers with a strikeout rate higher than Boyd’s 32.1%: Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale. Only Lucas Giolito has increased his K-rate more than Boyd in the past year.

At the same time, Boyd has sliced his walk rate, from between 7-9% percent each year from 2015-18, to just 5.1% this season. And the difference of 27.1 percentage points between Boyd’s strikeout and walk rates again ranks behind only Cole, Scherzer and Sale. In other words, he’s been brilliant at the parts of the game over which a pitcher has the most control.

3) He epitomizes the modern pitcher

Aside from his relative lack of velocity -- his fastball averages around 92 mph -- Boyd is representative of the way pitchers have evolved in recent years. That meant not only reshaping his body, but also his repertoire.

He spent multiple offseasons at the progressive Driveline Baseball, working with advanced data and technology -- such as Edgertronic cameras and Rapsodo tracking devices -- to design a more effective slider. Combined with tips from fellow southpaw James Paxton and his coaches, that project left Boyd with a pitch that misses bats and has yielded 70 strikeouts this season, among the most in the Majors.

Boyd’s breakout has followed another path that has become familiar in recent years. Since 2017, when he posted a 5.27 ERA and 18.2% strikeout rate, he has almost entirely ditched an ineffective sinker, while roughly doubling the usage of his high-spin four-seamer, to about 50%.

He also has leaned more and more on his slider, at the expense of his curveball and changeup. In an era when pitchers are embracing the simple concept of “throw your best pitches,” Boyd has gone to the four-seamer or slider more than 85% of the time in 2019, letting the pitches work off each other to great effect.

4) He’s hit a rough patch recently -- sort of

Since posting a 2.85 ERA in 12 starts though the end of May, Boyd owns a 5.88 mark in seven outings since then. The primary culprit has been 12 home runs, tied for the second most in MLB in that span. Yet at the same time, Boyd has continued to pile up strikeouts (64) and limit walks (nine), with the difference between his K and BB rates still ranking third in MLB.

So are all the dingers going to cut into Boyd’s trade value? Given the multiple years of control he offers, his highly inflated homers-per-fly-ball rate and strong underlying numbers, that seems unlikely. But Boyd is more of a fly-ball pitcher, which is something to consider for a club with a much less spacious outfield than Comerica Park’s.

5) He’s not just a product of the AL Central

It’s fair to point out that Boyd currently resides in a division in which only the slugging first-place Twins rank in the top half of the Majors in offense. Of course, it’s not as if he is pitching against his own light-hitting Tigers club, and the aggregate OPS of all batters he has faced this season, per Baseball Prospectus, was only 33rd lowest of 109 pitchers entering Tuesday (minimum 75 innings).

Boyd has held his own when facing the strongest competition. In eight starts against the A’s, Angels, Astros, Braves, Rangers, Red Sox, Twins, and Yankees, he has a 4.07 ERA and 60-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 48 2/3 innings (He has a 3.86 ERA in his other starts).

How would Boyd fare in a different environment, perhaps in a postseason chase? As Trade Deadline season heats up, we just might get a chance to find out.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.