Matthew Boyd appeared in a handful of FanGraphs articles in 2018. The Detroit Tigers left-hander was included in a June installment of the Learning and Developing a Pitch series. A few months later, his hockey background was highlighted in an October Sunday Notes column.
Today we’ll hear from Boyd on a more-encompassing subject: how he learned, and approaches, his chosen craft. First, some pertinent biographical information.
A 27-year-old native of the Seattle area, Boyd was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, but rather than signing a professional contract, he returned to Oregon State University for his senior year. He was subsequently selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, with whom he debuted in 2015. His big-league feet barely wet — he’d made just two appearances — he was then traded to the Tigers in that summer’s trade-deadline deal involving David Price.
Boyd made a career-high 31 starts this past season, logging a 4.39 ERA and a 4.45 FIP. This interview took place in mid-August.
Matthew Boyd on pitching: “My dad (Kurt Boyd) was my coach from nine years old to when I went to college. He was also one of my main pitching coaches. He’d pitched in high school, then went into the Navy — he needed the G.I. Bill to pay for college — and served for seven years. He’s been coaching for a long time. He has a program out in Seattle called Mudville Baseball Club.
“He was always telling me how to read swings. I’ve had lots of people — other coaches in my life — telling me that, too. But my dad wanted me to understand what the hitter was trying to do. He never called pitches in high school; I always got to call my own game. There were times I got my teeth kicked in. There are times you learn stuff.
“In college, I kept a journal. Before my starts in my senior year — and even earlier than that — I would write down the guys in conference play. I’d see them swing and would be be like, ‘[Stephen] Piscotty likes to keep his front shoulder in and drive the ball to right center.’ Something small like that would let me know that I was going to attack him on the hands, as opposed to giving him something out over the plate that he could drive the other way, or whatnot.
“[Nate] Yeskie, our pitching coach, would give me game film of the team from the weekend before. I would try to match that up — it wouldn’t always work — with what I’d written down. He kind of elaborated on what my dad had taught me. It was, ‘Watch where their hands are. Watch where they’re trying to get the barrel to the ball. Watch what the ball does when they foul it off. Are they late on the fastball? Are they sitting on it?’
“I don’t think [sequencing] is a cut-and-dried thing. It’s kind of a day by day thing. It’s game by game. One of my strengths is throwing my slider backdoor, and on the days I have my curveball, I can throw that to the back door consistently, too. It gives me two dynamics. If I can get right-handed hitters to lean over, that opens up the inside. Consequently, if I can command a fastball in, that’s going to open up stuff away.
“There’s a dynamic between the pitcher and the catcher. Up here, I know that if [James] McCann sees something, he’s going to put it down. I trust him with that. On the flip side, he also knows that if I see something, we can work on in that sense. That wasn’t always the case. You couple breaking down a splits sheet with what you see.
“You know their swings from what your eyes tell you — which I think is the most important thing — and hopefully the data backs it up. The data might say his average on down-and-away heaters is really good. That’s where he hits balls hard. But he doesn’t have numbers inside, so that’s where I’m going to attack. Really, the numbers are usually confirming what I’ve already seen with my eyes.
“Regardless of whether a guy hits a certain pitch, if you set it up a different way you can open up that pitch. Say he’s good down and away on off-speed pitches. If you really stand him up inside with heaters … you can’t hit both of them, right? You have to watch his swing. Maybe it’s, ‘Oh man, he’s cheating to that, so now I have to go out here.’
“Sometimes I have make adjustments to myself. I had a few starts around the middle of the year — Cleveland, Toronto and Texas — where my slider kind of changed shape. That was because, as [pitching coach] Rick Anderson pointed out, I wasn’t getting out in front like I normally do. His eyes were trained enough to see what was happening.
“I’d given up two home runs on my slider. That was against Texas. They were flat and kind of sweepy. In that circumstance, I wasn’t commanding my fastball, and because I wasn’t commanding my fastball, they were probably looking offspeed. With my slider not being sharp, that was a problem. Rick was like, ‘Let’s get your fastball back out front.’ Sure enough, I do that and my slider follows. ‘Wham! There it is.’
“There’s the old adage that everything is predicated off of the fastball. That’s kind of like the default, and it was true in my sense. ‘OK, I get back to here and it’s a go. There it is. A fastball in to my glove side, another to my glove side. OK, now I can command that. Let’s go back to slider. Oh, there’s the depth again.’
“I have confidence in all four of my pitches, and I’ve had success with all four of my pitches. It’s a matter of putting them all together at the same time. I don’t think I’ve done that yet in this league. I don’t think I’ve shown my best stuff with all four. I think part of it has been me riding with what’s best on a given day.
“Some days circumstances are going to dictate that you’re a fastball-changeup pitcher. Some days are going to dictate that you’re a fastball-curveball pitcher, pitching north and south. Some days you’re going be a fastball-slider pitcher, pitching east and west. The lineup, your stuff, how you’re feeling that day … that’s all going to dictate what you do. I feel I can go in all of those directions. Regardless of which one it is, I’m reading hitters’ swings.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.