TDG’s Triple Play: Detroit Tigers!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Pitcher: Matthew Boyd, Age: 29, Position: SP
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
The price paid for David Price
As the owners and players start their (re)negotiations to attempt to have a 2020 season, one of the few things that we do know is that there will only be five rounds in the June first-year player draft. As Jeff Passan reported, this will save teams approximately $1 million per franchise, which is less than what Bobby Bonilla makes from the Mets every July 1st until 2035. There will be countless stories of “what could have been?” for the players who would have been drafted in round six, which happens to be the round Matthew Boyd was drafted in 2013, as well as the 34 subsequent rounds.
Drafted by the Blue Jays and later making his debut with that team in June of 2015, Boyd was dealt a month later to Detroit as part of a package that returned David Price to Toronto. (When David Price wins 80 more games and makes the Hall of Fame, will he go in as a Blue Jay or a Tiger?) A quick glance at Boyd’s baseball-reference page does not offer much to stick around for. A five-year career with a 31-47 record, 4.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 1.6 HR/9 somehow results in the unquestioned ace of the Detroit Tigers in 2020. A deeper look gives hope for an undervalued player with late-career breakout potential.
I’m Not Your Boyd Toy
Boyd has made many tweaks to his pitching repertoire over the years, and the limited views that we saw of Boyd in Spring Training 2020 were no different. Going back to 2017, Boyd had a plethora of pitches: Fourseam Fastball, Sinker, Slider, Change-Up, Curve Ball. At that time, he used all five pitches a minimum of 10% of the time. The curveball in 2017 (18% usage) allowed a .164 BA/.219 SLG%, certainly his best pitch but he decreased that usage to 12% and 5% these past two years. Similarly, Boyd’s change-up went from 21% to 8% to 6% in the past three years.
The culprit for the reduced usage of these two pitches comes from Boyd finding excellent success in 2018 with his slider, using it 31% of the time for a .172 BA Allowed. Trending toward a Fastball/Slider two-pitch pitcher already, he upped that usage even more in 2019, throwing FB/Slider a predictable 85% of the time. The slider continued to be fantastic (.192 BA, .328 SLG, 43.4% Whiff%, 8 HR allowed), but likely at the cost of the fastball (.269 BA, .533 SLG, 24.1 Whiff%, 25 HR allowed). After two terrific months (5-4, 2.85 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), hitters caught on and turned the tide with Boyd having a 4-8, 5.67, 1.37 WHIP from June to September, although he still featured a 12.0 K/9 in these final 20 starts. Boyd led the league allowing an appalling 39 home runs. In all, per Fangraphs Pitch Values, Boyd’s slider ranked 6th in the league in 2018 and 17th in 2019 (min: 100 IP), while all of his other pitches both years had a negative Pitch Value.
In an excellent podcast with Nick Pollack and Alex Fast from Pitcher List, Boyd acknowledged being predictable last year, “Home runs were, I believe, a product of missed location and I lived in to righties and I’d throw a slider, two pitches that were coming in to righties.” Boyd discussed working at Driveline, as well as his use of a Rapsodo to improve his change-up and curveball in the offseason. “I know I can command my fastball down and away, let’s get back to it. Let’s make the change-up even more of a weapon.” Boyd admitted that he got away from his Change-Up in 2018-19, and that he hoped to get back to what he did in 2017. The way I read that is that Boyd needs to combine the pitch mix of 2017 with his improved stuff of 2020.
In Spring Training, Boyd was sitting at 92 MPH but often hitting 94-95 MPH with his fastball and throwing a reportedly improved change-up at 80 MPH. Some of that nastiness vs. the Yankees is displayed here. This discrepancy in velocity could be a huge plus for Boyd in 2020 and beyond, especially if his fastball can tick closer to the mid-90s as he showed early. Despite never reaching a double-digit Win total in any season, Boyd has shown a lot of improvement the last three seasons culminating in a 238 strikeout season last year, 10th in all of baseball.
Boyd pitched into the sixth inning in 24 of his 32 starts in 2019, throwing 6+ in 21 of 32. It’s clear that the Tigers have become more comfortable making Boyd their workhorse. Although he will not be free-agent eligible until he enters the 2023 season at 32 years old, Boyd’s name appears in trade rumors frequently as the Tigers are likely a couple of years away from competing. That would be a huge boon to his dynasty value. Although he has pitched on worse teams, Boyd’s first five seasons are reminiscent of Trevor Bauer, another pitcher notorious for being a “tinkerer” from year-to-year (and more so, game-to-game). While unlikely, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities for him to take the outstanding K-rate of 2019 and put things together for a full year as Bauer did in 2018, rather than just in two-month spurts like Boyd has thus far. I’ve ended up with a lot of Matthew Boyd as my SP4 in 2020, for the WHIP and Strikeout floor alone. There’s still time to buy-in if a late-career breakout happens, and, like The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, Boyd can make you feel like you’re on Cloud Nine … he’s not your Boyd Toy.
Hitter: Niko Goodrum, Age: 28, Position: SS
Analysis by: Greg Gibbons
Goodrum and Coke
Equal parts infielder and outfielder, with a dash of breakout, the Goodrum recipe has been a nice success for a Detroit Tigers team that otherwise lacks depth and everyday players. Drafted by the Twins in the second round back in 2010, Goodrum aged in the minors for several years before debuting in 2017. That offseason, he elected free agency and settled on a minor league deal with the Tigers, earning himself a major league roster spot out of spring training. Since, he’s posted two nearly identical seasons, including his 2019 season which spanned 423 at bats, with a .248 average, 12 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and a .322 on base percentage. Niko is listed as a shortstop, but he definitely has multi-position eligibility in your league after logging time at every fielding position this past season. You’re probably wondering why a 28-year-old utility player is being covered from a dynasty perspective, and that makes two of us.
Why is the Goodrum always gone?
The Tigers are bad, really bad. Fortunately, there is help on the way as all us dynasty leaguers are well aware. Until then though, they are stuck with who they have. A lone bright spot and staple in their lineup has been Niko Goodrum. He’s proved to be a jack-of-all-trades, bouncing between positions while still providing serviceable counting stats. Back-to-back years of similar production likely give us a baseline for the switch hitter moving forward, provided he continues to get the same number of at-bats. He isn’t going to wow you with power or speed, but there are none more versatile who can provide (over 162 games) upside of 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases.
Year-over-year, Goodrum saw increases in exit velocity, launch angle, hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage, and his walk rate along with decreases in his strikeout rate, groundball rate, and his weak contact rate. The improvements across the board are encouraging, albeit incremental increases to an overwhelmingly average profile, and signal that Goodrum’s batted ball profile is likely sustainable, with slight upside for more. The knock on Goodrum, among other things, is his whiff rate, leading to a nearly 30% strikeout rate which will continue to suppress his value.
The Tigers made a couple of notable additions this past offseason in C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, both of which are better overall fantasy options and should bolster the middle of their lineup. Goodrum should hit near the top of the lineup and with some extra firepower behind him we can expect he’ll see plenty of pitches to hit and will likely lead to an increase in plate appearances and runs.
I’m not here to try to sell you on Niko Goodrum or tell you to go out and trade for him. However, fantasy owners everywhere are dealing with an abundance of uncertainty right now as we eagerly wait to hear details of the upcoming major league season and having another potential depth piece in your back pocket will only help your team. Goodrum is a back-end roster piece at best who can be acquired for little to no cost. He gets a sizeable bump in daily leagues due to his position versatility and near-lock for maximum amount of playing time. Unless you’re in the deepest of leagues, Goodrum may be sitting on the waiver wire, and you should keep tabs on him. He’s known to be a bit streaky, so if he gets off to a fast start don’t be afraid to claim him. Also, as MLB considers expanding rosters and possibly a universal designated hitter, everyday players will be coveted across fantasy leagues, with Goodrum firmly in that mix.
Prospect: Tarik Skubal, Age: 23, Position: SP, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: James Weisser
Tarik Skubal wasn’t drafted out of high school in 2014 and he wasn’t a very highly recruited pitcher but he made his way to the University of Seattle and impressed enough to become a starting pitcher as a freshman in 2015. Through his first 2 seasons with Seattle University of the Western Athletic Conference, over 126 innings he compiled a 13-5 record, 2.85 ERA, 1.15 WHIP,118 strikeouts (8.4 K/9) and a 2.68 K/BB rate. He also helped the University of Seattle become regular-season WAC Champions in 2016. In 2017, the year that would be Skubal’s draft-eligible junior season, he ended up missing the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. Despite that, he was still drafted in the 29th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Some could be wondering why even take a pitcher with modest numbers coming off of Tommy John surgery. It seems now that Arizona had a good feel for the pitcher, but Skubal decided to not sign with the Diamondbacks and went back to the University of Seattle for his senior year. In 2018 his stats were even worse than the two years prior. However, the one stat he improved upon was his K/9, which improved from 8.4 over his first two seasons to 11.9 despite seeing his control worsen from 2.68 to 1.89. His stuff improved while working his way back from Tommy John enough that despite the numbers being worse and him being a senior he actually improved his draft stock (from the 29th round up to the 9th round) and was nabbed by the Tigers.
Skubal’s Roaring 2019 Season
After signing with the Tigers and making a few relief appearances (8) and one short 2-inning start in the Gulf Coast League he was given a chance as a starting pitcher in 2019. From early on it was perhaps easy for the Tigers organization to realize they had a special talent. In fact, he was able to start right out of the gate at High-A which is typically where most 1st round and early-round draft picks from big schools start their first full season. Usually, college pitchers from smaller schools will start at Low-A, a level which Skubal only made 3 appearances at in 2018 before being promoted and starting the season at High A. As part of a High-A rotation that featured Casey Mize the #1 overall pick from 2018 it would’ve been rather easy for Skubal to get overlooked. But he started out throwing strikes, posting his best month as a professional with a 6.2 K/BB rate for April along with his 3rd best month for WHIP (0.99) with an even better K/9 than he had in college (12.0). It seemed like Skubal might be on his way to earning a promotion to Double-A, and after a shakey May and a 0.39 ERA June he moved to Double-A in July. In his first Double-A start he pitched 5 strong innings, only allowing 1 hit and 0 earned runs while striking out 11. Throughout the rest of the season at Double-A in which he made 9 starts, 6 starts were quality starts and in 5 of those 6 starts he allowed 1 earned run or fewer while posting a 2.13 ERA to go along with a ridiculous 17.4 K/9 over 42.1 innings pitched.
Earning his Stripes
Tarik Skubal was one of the most impressive and talked about players in spring training this season, thanks in part to his 2019 season but also thanks to his incredible arsenal of pitches which consists of a double-plus fastball that sits at 94-95 and tops out at 97 with lots of movement which he commands well. He also has two secondary pitches that have a chance to be above average or better, in his slider that projects to be a plus pitch and his curveball. He’s also working on improving his changeup which could give him a 4th option that could also develop into a plus pitch in time. He has the makings of a #2 starter and might be one of the biggest keys to Detroit’s young and impressive starting rotation over the next few years.
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