If you’ve been paying attention at all this season, you know that the Yankees are thinking about getting a starter. It’s simply a smart plan to get better for the postseason. and despite them holding the best record in all of baseball, an upgrade may still be needed.
There are a ton of options on the table. Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman and Trevor Bauer, among others, have been mentioned as possible targets. Those are the big names. However, one of the most intriguing options is Matthew Boyd, and based on the statistics I’m about to show you, he is undeniably the best path the Yankees could take.
Let’s begin with this: wins and losses for a starting pitcher do not matter. Boyd is 6-8 so far for the Tigers, and none of that is his fault. It just so happens that the Tigers are one of the worst teams in all of baseball, and with that comes the worst offense in MLB in terms of runs scored.
And other thing before we begin: ERA is neither predictive nor a good way to evaluate player skill over the short term. Yes, the goal for a pitcher is to keep runs off the scoreboard. But the issue with ERA is that it’s entirely too volatile and lacks context. Take this example:
Pitcher A walks the first three batters of the inning, miraculously gets out of the jam without giving up a run.
Pitcher B just strikes out the side to start and end the inning without allowing a baserunner.
Both pitchers have a 0.00 ERA. But did they pitch equally as well? Of course not. Another thing to consider is who is more likely to give up runs going forward? If Pitcher A walks the bases loaded every time out, he is incredibly unlikely to keep a zero on the scoreboard. Yet according to his 0.00 ERA, you’d have no idea. If you want to read more about the issue with ERA, check this out from FanGraphs.
Boyd’s advanced metrics
Instead of using an incredibly flawed stat to evaluate how Boyd has pitched this season, let’s take a look at three stats: FIP, xFIP and SIERA.
FIP has become rather commonplace in baseball in recent years, but if you don’t know what it is, read this. It’s based around the philosophy that a pitcher can only control four things: strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs.
Boyd’s FIP currently sits 3.57, 18th-best in baseball among the 75 qualified starters so far this season.
That’s solid, right? Great! It gets better. xFIP is the same as FIP, but it uses a league-average home run rate in its calculation. What good is a stat that excludes the amount of home runs a pitcher allows? Well, according to FanGraphs, “home run rates are generally unstable over time and fluctuate around league-average, so by estimating a pitcher’s home run total, xFIP attempts to isolate a player’s ability level.”
After last night’s start, Boyd’s xFIP ranks 11th in baseball thus far at 3.38. For Boyd especially, it’s not fair to use xFIP, as allowing home runs is one of Boyd’s weaknesses. But more on that later.
At this point, you’re probably saying, “Sean, balls in play matter. Giving up hits is bad, and I don’t want you to exclude them entirely.” Well, random reader, I appreciate you saying that. You’re actually helping me prove my point.
Meet SIERA. It’s not something most fans know, so here is an explanation. “SIERA adds in complexity in an attempt to more accurately model what makes a pitcher successful. SIERA doesn’t ignore balls in play, but attempts to explain why certain pitchers are more successful at limiting hits and preventing runs.”
As it stands right now, Boyd possesses the fourth-best SIERA at 3.24. The only pitchers with a better mark are Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. Pretty good company, some would say. Unsurprisingly, Boyd also ranks fourth behind that trio in K/BB% with a 27.2 figure.
Comparing Boyd to the rest of the field
So how does Boyd stack up against other potentially available starters?
Boyd is clearly above the pack by a considerable margin. That’s the good. Let’s dive into some of the weaknesses. For starters, as I mentioned, he has a bit of the home run bug. So far this season, Boyd has a 16.5 HR/FB%, which is less than appealing to the eye.
Over his last nine starts, he’s allowed home runs in eight outings, surrendering 15 long balls since the beginning of June. In that time, he has a 5.74 ERA (just for context) and a 4.50 FIP, which leaves a lot to be desired. But there’s evidence that he’s been unlucky. Batters are hitting a very high .350 with balls in play, well over Boyd’s career mark of .298. That’s part of the reason why he has a 2.97 SIERA over that span.
And while I wanted to avoid the ERA conversation, I understand that many people aren’t quite ready to dismiss it as an evaluation tool entirely. So, let’s get this over with. On the season, Boyd has a 4.07 ERA. That ranks 40th out of 75 qualified starters thus far. That’s not very good, right? I mean, it’d rank second-best on the Yankees behind Masahiro Tanaka (4.00), but that’s not saying too much.
Why is his ERA higher than his peripherals say it should be? I can’t answer that definitively. But this is something I found interesting: the Detroit Tigers absolutely stink at defense. It’s true, and here are the stats. Among the 30 MLB teams, the Motor City Big Cats rank…
25th in DRS (-29)
25th in UZR (-17.3)
28th in UZR/150 (-6.5)
27th in FanGraphs’ Def (-18.3)
So that’s basically it when it comes to how Boyd has pitched this season. There are other factors to consider, like the fact he’s 28-years-old, or that his previous two seasons were pretty bad, and downright horrible when compared to his 2019 performance. He’s also under team control for three more years after this season, which could make the cost very high.
But if the Yankees want to make a splash, Boyd is the guy. For the fans who think Brian Cashman has been too conservative in regards to starting pitchers, this is the move. Not only is it an acquisition to win the World Series this year, it also sets the rotation up well for years to come.