Matt Boyd and Jeff Francis: The Difference Between AAA and MLB
Baseball is a curious game, isn’t it. From one day to the next, one month to the next, one year to the next a player can shine or he can turn into the goat. Try as we might, there is no way to truly and definitively predict with certainty how a player will perform. All the fancy stats can provide is a ‘best guess’. Perhaps, this even more true when you gauge performance from one level to the next. Take, for example, pitching in AAA versus pitching at the big league level. We can’t predict how things will play out for given players.
That might be because there is a big difference in pitching at the two levels. We’ve all heard that the big league level is better. We know this. D’uh. The lineup is full of guys who can hit. They are smarter, too. They can read pitchers and their stuff better. The lights are brighter, the crowds are bigger, the umpires are better. Thursday’s debacle, not withstanding. Everything is just better. Therefore, for a pitcher, it is harder. And, there may be no better examples of this than Jeff Francis and Matt Boyd.
Toronto Blue Jays
On Thursday night, 34 year old Canadian, Jeff Francis threw a pretty decent ball game. He went 6 innings, giving up 2 earned runs on 6 hits. He also struck out 10 batters. This was a good night of work. But, what makes it much more interesting is that coming into the contest, Francis had a streak of 18 scoreless innings. It was snapped in the 3rd after picking up 3 more innings. So, at 21 innings, he gave up 2 runs. Right after that, he was perfect for the rest of the game to start a new streak.
Major League level- In 11 years up and down, to and from MLB Francis has had mixed success. Overall, he’s compiled a 72-82 record with a 4.97 ERA and an ERA+ of 93. However, he hasn’t had a taste of what many would call “success” since his time in Colorado from 2005 through 2007. In 2005, he finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting and in 2007, he was 9th in Cy Young voting. In his Rocky Mountain time, he went 44-32. He hasn’t had more than 12 starts at the MLB level since 2013.
The argument can be made that pitching at the big league level has presented quite the challenge for him. Take this season, for example. In 8 games, he’s 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA. Now, none of that time has been as a starter, but in 12 innings of work, we’re reminded why Francis hasn’t had success at the big league level in a while. Hitters are working him for 12 hits per nine innings. His WHIP sits at 1.750.
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Now, if we compare all of this to his minor league performance, we see a much different story. Overall, he’s 42-23 with an ERA of 2.84. Batters have worked him for just 7.7 H/9 and a WHIP of 1.088. This season alone shows us how much more successful he’s been at the AAA level. There, he’s 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA. His WHIP (0.958) is the lowest it’s been since 2010. He’s putting up 7.1 H/9, 0.2 HR/9, 1.5 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9. This success is in stark contrast with his MLB experience this year and over the last several.
If we move our attention to the younger Matt Boyd, we get a similar story. Thursday evening, Boyd was shelled by the Red Sox. He’d given up 7 runs before he recorded an out. We know that is bad. He’d gotten away with an average performance in his big league debut against the Texas Rangers. We can credit nerves for his 6.2 innings of 9 hit, 7 strike out showing. The fact that 3 of the hits went for home runs highlights what happens when you make a mistake in the big leagues.
Thursday’s showing was even worse. 7 earned runs, including 2 home runs before an out was recorded give him a healthy 0-2 record and a 14.85 ERA. His ERA+ sits at just 27. The 2.400 WHIP is bad. Now, we have to recognize that these numbers are inflated by the small sample size that two starts provides. But, regardless of the sample size, his big league showing is not what he or the club had in mind.
Now, when I discussed Francis above, I mentioned his time in the minors with an eye to his AAA numbers. This is a little ore difficult to do with Boyd. After all, he’d only spent 2 starts for 12 innings at the AAA level. Before that, he was lighting it up in AA to the tune of a 6-1, 1.10 run. So, the club tested him at the next level. In his two starts, he put up a 2.25 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, 9 H/9, 9 K/9. He’d not been doing too badly. If you combine that with his AA numbers, he was having great success. Then, he was promoted to the bigs.
Whether he was brought up because of necessity (the club could have given a start to Francis) or to show him off in the hopes he’d attract a trade partner, we’ll never really know. But, what we do know is that it did not end well for the pitcher or the club.
Whether it is out of necessity that a club brings up a pitcher from AAA due to injury, or whether the club feels the pitcher is ready is different in each case. But, what is clear, is that there is a big difference in pitching in AAA than with the bright lights of big league stadiums shining on you.
Next: Does Matt Boyd Offer the Same Type of Value Sean Nolin Did?