The July 31 trade deadline — the only trade deadline on MLB’s calendar as of this season — is roughly a fortnight away. While the tantalizing particulars are yet to be determined, Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd is perhaps the most compelling name being bandied about.
Boyd is indeed enjoying an excellent 2019:
In addition to those numbers you see above, he boasts anof 120 with an FIP of 3.47. FIP, or fielding-independent pitching, is what a pitcher’s ERA might look like if you gave him average defensive support and average luck. Since Boyd plays in front of the generally weak Detroit fielders, his FIP is a better measure of his true pitching skill. In related matters, Boyd’s 6.33 K/BB ratio leads the AL at the moment.
Of course, those bullish on the 2019 version of Boyd must cope with the reality that coming in the current season he had a career ERA of 5.07 with a K/BB ratio of 2.58 across 86 starts and 14 relief appearances. It’s always good policy to be wary of short-run results that are out of step with a player’s larger body of work, but in Boyd’s case there’s good cause to believe he’s genuinely leveled up.
Boyd has a deep, five-pitch repertoire, but he throws either the fastball or slider more than 80 percent of the time. He’s got solid velocity by lefty standards, and this season he’s increased his spin rate on both pitches, possibly in part by lowering his arm angle just a bit. Prior to his soft breakout in 2018 (101 ERA+ and 3.12 K/BB ratio for the year), Boyd added a great deal of vertical movement to his slider, which helps explain his increasing willingness to use it against the opposite side. While Boyd is indeed fastball-sinker heavy, he throws his change, curve, and sinker often enough to keep hitters thinking about them.
The changes have added up to a strikeout percentage — i.e., strikeouts as a percentage of batters faced — of 32.1 for Boyd this season. Among qualifiers, that figure ranks behind just Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale. That’s rarified air. It’s also part of why Boyd projects well going forward despite a mostly uninspiring performance record for most of his career.
On another level, Boyd is a coveted target because he came into the 2019 season with just over two years of MLB service time. He’ll be first-year arbitration-eligible this coming winter, which means that, even though he’s in for a big salary boost, he’ll still fit within most teams’ budget constraints (self-inflicted or otherwise). Boyd’s also not eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season, so any team that acquires him will get him for the balance of the current season plus three more full seasons at below-market rates. Since Boyd is presently 28 years of age, that span figures to be pre-decline.
All of that — his scant service time plus his sustainable excellence in the current season — means that the Tigers can rightly ask for a great deal in return. A package involving multiple top-100 overall prospects is probably a starting point. The question for Detroit GM Al Avila is whether he wants to part with a player who has plenty of mid- to long-term value. The Tigers have a number of impressive prospects in the high minors, and they’re in “contention” for the top overall pick in 2020. Deciding that their competitive window will open prior to Boyd’s free agency is entirely defensible, so it’s by no means a given that they will or should deal him. If the Tigers do opt to flip Boyd before July 31, then he might command the biggest haul of anyone. That’s with good reason.