What's Gone Wrong With Matthew Boyd? 'He’s Got A Lot Going On'

The issues are both mechanical and mental, it seems.

Will Burchfield
August 16, 2019 - 5:00 pm

© Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

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The whiffs are still there. With even greater frequency, in fact. 

Just about everything else in Matthew Boyd's breakout season is coming undone. 

The latest stumble came Tuesday night when he served up four home runs -- and seven runs total -- to the Mariners in another Tigers loss. 

Boyd spoke valiantly afterward, as he will, and vowed to do everything to turn things around. The huge strides he made in the first half of the season are disappearing this summer like footprints in the sand. 

Disappearing with them are balls into the bleachers, and this is where Boyd has lost his way. The home runs just won't stop. He's allowed 23 since the start of June, and 30 this season, the third most in the majors. Yes, every pitcher in prone to the long ball these days, but Boyd finds himself on a different level. 

It wasn't like this early on. In his first 12 starts, Boyd surrendered just seven homers, or 0.8/9 innings. The rest have come in his 13 starts since, at an alarming rate of 2.8/9 innings. His ERA over this span has ballooned from 2.85 to 4.38. 

His ERA last season, when Boyd was just another pitcher, was 4.39.

"He’s a strikeout guy, and strikeout guys are normally those guys that give up some home runs because they’re constantly pounding that strike zone and throwing fastballs high," Ron Gardenhire told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. "Matty’s been that. He’s been a strikeout guy this year, and he’s going to give up some home runs when you’re attacking like he does." 

It's interesting. Even as Boyd's ERA has climbed since June, even as balls continue to soar into the seats, his strikeout rate has increased. It was already high to begin with, 10.9 K/9 innings through May. It's up to 12.8 K/9 since. That would rank third in the majors. 

But as the strikeouts have risen, so have the walks. Boyd was issuing just 1.9 BB/9 innings through May. He's issued 2.5 BB/9 since. Control is something Boyd prides himself on; he talks often about "attacking the zone." The zone has begun to elude him. 

So here he is midway through August, a purported ace with results that suggest otherwise. That has to concern the Tigers, who turned down offers for Boyd at the trade deadline with the idea of building their rotation around him in the future. 

Where has Boyd gone wrong? In Gardenhire's mind, it's mixture of issues mechanical and mental. And a little fatigue. 

"He’s got a lot going on," Gardenhire said. "His wife’s due to have a baby here any day and he’s got a lot of things going on in his mind. He got through the trade deadline, and I’m sure that there was anxiety involved in all that stuff because his name was flying all over the place.

"Now it’s just basically getting back in his mechanics. He’s getting out of whack a little bit and his arm angle’s changing. He’ll drop down to the side, which makes his slider a little loopy. But the guy’s a competitor and he’ll figure it out." 

A competitor, no doubt, the kind of pitcher who takes the ball every fifth day, no questions asked. And maybe, as Boyd closes in on a career high in innings pitched, he's hitting a bit of a wall -- not that his velocity would indicate it. 

"He’s probably going through a bit of dead-arm, too," Gardenhire said. "He’s got a lot of innings on him, so there’s a lot of things that could be it." 

Bring these theories to Boyd, and the altered arm angle is the only he would acknowledge. The rest he would see as excuses. This is his way, and it's part of the reason the Tigers like him so much. He's a stand-up, accountable pitcher consumed with winning. He sets a good example. 

There's no doubt Boyd has the stuff to be a frontline starter. He proved that over the first two months of the season. The question facing him now -- and facing the Tigers -- is whether he can legitimately anchor a big-league rotation moving forward. 

Is Matthew Boyd an ace? Or is he just another pitcher? 

He has a handful of starts left this season to begin providing an answer. 

"I have complete confidence," he said after Tuesday's loss. "I know I am going to get better from this going forward. Over the next five days I will make the adjustments I need to. I never guarantee success, but I know I will put myself in the best position to be the best pitcher I can be."