Might Matt Boyd of the Detroit Tigers be a good fit for the Toronto Blue Jays as a 2021 deadline acquisition?
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The Toronto Blue Jays need starting pitching. I think we can all agree on that one.
It is possible that the solution to this problem might come from within. Alek Manoah might be ready, Thomas Hatch might be healthy, Trent Thornton might not be needed in the bullpen, and Nate Pearson might have learned how to throw strikes. But there are a lot of “mights” in that last sentence. It may accordingly behoove the Jays to look to acquire another starter, either now or at the trade deadline.
So what would the Jays be looking for?
A proven ace would be nice, but they would command a crazy-high price and the competition would be ugly. So as much as as Luis Castillo or Germán Márquez would look good in Jays blue, put them aside for a moment.
A proven veteran ace rental would help for 2021, but (a) many veterans have 10-5 rights, and so can choose which team they play for (and Toronto/Dunedin/Buffalo is not a prime destination – yet!) and (b) the Jays might not be close enough yet to go “all-in” (in prospect capital) for half a year. So put Max Scherzer in the “low probability” holding pen as well.
There are many pitchers who would make interesting acquisitions, but their teams are contending (or believe they are / will be) so it is unlikely that they would be on the market. Think David Price of the Dodgers, or Marco Gonzales of Seattle, or José Berríos of the Twins. It is possible that one of these teams could become sellers, but it would be dangerous to put all of the Jays’ eggs in that basket.
So what does that leave us with? We are looking for a veteran pitcher (ideally but not necessarily a right-hander) with some upside (as in a sub-4 ERA). He can’t be extortionately expensive, and he has to be playing for a team who could reasonably be expected to be sellers. But perhaps most important, he has to be able to provide innings – the Jays’ bullpen can not be expected to pitch 50% of the Jays innings for a full season, so a starter who can be counted on for 6-ish innings a start would be more than welcome. And in this crazy injury season, a history of durability would also be a major plus.
Let’s talk about Matt Boyd.
In a November 2019 article, I described Boyd as a high-return, high risk gamble. Not a lot has changed since then. Matt had a bad 2020, pitching to a 6.71 ERA and a 4.60 SIERA. But so far in 2021, he has an excellent 3.08 ERA … and a 4.44 SIERA.
So why do I like him? Sounds like a prime candidate for regression, no?
First, let’s talk about innings. Matt has averaged just under 5.5 innings per start in his career, and his 5.9 innings per start in 2021 is 26th in baseball (for reference, Ryu is also 5.9). So he meets the innings test. Second, he is under team control through 2022, so he is not a one-year rental. Third, his 468 IP from 2018-21 is 17th highest in baseball. And finally, his ERA may not tell the whole story.
From 2018-2021, Matt has a 4.61 ERA and a 4.06 SIERA. Not that exciting. But in those years his Statcast xERA was 3.52 (16th in baseball among pitchers with the same number of batters faced), 3.75 (17th), 5.34 (57th), and 3.43 (10th). With the exception of a 2020 blip (and I discount most 2020 stats – like Mike Trout with a -24 DRS/1200) these are frontline starter stats. But how (I hear you ask) can Matt have such a good xERA when his xFIP and SIERA are so cromulent? Are these stats not designed to do the same thing – to evaluate pitching performance?
The answer is yes – and no. All three stats *do* look at pitching performance, but they do so from different perspectives. xFIP looks at expected stats based on factors they believe to be under the pitcher’s control: fly balls, walks, strikeouts and hit-by-pitches. SIERA also considers ground balls. These two stats calculate expected performance based on these variables (I simplify, but this is the gist). Statcast xERA uses a different paradigm. They look at every ball in play and calculate a probability that it would result in a hit, based on thousands of similar plays in the past. They then aggregate those probabilities to produce an expected ERA. So, in Matt’s case, xFIP and SIERA would say that he has been a little bit unlucky (4.61 ERA with 4.06 SIERA) but xERA would say that he has been very unlucky.
Why this difference? Well, when a pitcher’s xERA is substantially lower than his ERA, it often means that his team defense is lacking. A poor defensive team can make an average pitcher look bad – or a good pitcher look average. It is telling that from 2018-21 the Tigers had a -38 team Def (by fangraphs calculations) – 6th worst in baseball.
And of course, the final factor is the price. At the 2019 trade deadline, the Tigers were said to be asking the sun and the moon for Boyd. But after a poor second half of 2019 and 2020, and now with only 1.5 years left of team control, it is unlikely that Detroit’s demands will be as extortionate.
The bottom line
Matt Boyd is no Scherzer, or Castillo, and it is unlikely that he will ever be. But there is a very real chance that, with a decent defense behind him, he could be a solid, innings-eating, low injury risk top(ish) of rotation starter. As I said before, he is a gamble, but very likely a gamble worth taking.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.