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Eyeball Scout: Bubble, Bubble, Boyle Is Trouble!

San Diego Padres v Oakland Athletics
At 6’7”, Joe Boyle stands tall on the mound no matter how well he pitches.
Photo by Brandon Vallance/Getty Images

In a lost, rebuilding season there can be rejoicing in a 10-1 loss. Was Joe Boyle’s debut promising enough to make up for all the fail around him?

The answer is that despite Ken Waldichuk serving up 6 runs in the 4 innings which followed, despite Devin Sweet topping the 3-run HR he gave up Friday with a grand slam in his Sunday inning, today the future looks brighter than it did yesterday thanks to a lanky, spectacled prospect with a blazing fastball and sharp curve.

And a cutter that, while not necessarily eye-popping as the fastball and curve, could be the key to Boyle’s success because he can command it and has it as a go-to pitch when he needs to throw a strike.

Here’s what the numbers said about Boyle: 3 IP, 1 hit, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 58 pitches, 35 strikes. Obviously you have to like the hit total, which amounted to an opposite field single by Juan Soto, you love the 0 runs and the 4 Ks. The two walks are maybe par for the course, and the percentage of strikes thrown was 60% — perfectly fine though a tad below average.

But you did not come here to look at stats. You came here for the eyeballs, which are the window to the analytical soul. Here’s what the Eyeball Scout makes of Boyle’s big league debut.

First of all, in the context of a debut you have to love that despite the butterflies and adrenaline Boyle was far from wild. He appeared to be ready for the moment, taking a couple slow, deep breaths before throwing his first pitch and only really overthrowing a couple pitches in his 3 innings.

Fastball: Boyle’s fastball is explosive from the time it leaves his hand and gets on the hitter in a heartbeat. With velocity of 98-99 MPH it looks every bit the part. And just as importantly, Boyle commanded it just fine. When he didn’t it was usually that the pitch sailed on him, but he threw plenty of fastballs in the strike zone and often on or near the corners.

Boyle’s fastball is hard enough to square up that he can probably afford to aim for the middle of the strike zone and let it drift to the corners by virtue of his lack of perfect control. So long as he fills up the strike zone with it, overall Boyle’s fastball is going to work for him, not against him. And what I saw was a pitcher who could throw his high octane fastball for strikes most of time.

Curve: The curve was the pitch Boyle struggled the most to command, sometimes missing in the dirt off the plate for an easy take. This includes one 3-2 pitch that resulted in one of his two walks.

However, when he threw the curve over the plate he got swings and misses out of the zone and called strikes in the zone from batters frozen from trying to be on time for the fastball.

It remains to be seen how much Boyle can keep his curve on or near the plate without sacrificing the sharp break that makes it effective. This might wind up being the key to his success or failure as a starting pitcher. But given the natural jitters of a debut, I thought he commanded it often enough that I have cautious optimism going forward.

Cutter: Boyle seems to throw the cutter for strikes with ease, which may explain how his horrific walk numbers (75 BB in 84 IP with Cincinnati’s AA team) turned around with Midland and Las Vegas (18 BB in 33 IP).

In some ways Boyle’s stuff reminds me of Shintaro Fujinami, who also throws a high ‘90s fastball and leans on the slider when he needs to throw a strike. The difference is that Fujinami’s slider, while a pitch he could throw in the strike zone, was also a pitch batters could square up.

Boyle’s cutter, at least today, seemed to give the Padres’ hitters trouble so that it wasn’t just a “get me over” pitch, it was also an effective pitch to keep hitters off the barrel and in some cases off contact entirely. Thus, it seems like a pitch he can throw frequently as an “out pitch” and not just to regain command.

Overall: The way he commanded his fastball and cutter, and with the curve being a wicked chase or “paralysis” pitch, the door seems to be open for Boyle to emerge as one of those pitchers whose control problems fade with increased “muscle memory” and perhaps a key shift in arsenal.

It’s far too soon to anoint Mason Miller healthy or Joe Boyle a strike thrower, but if the A’s catch a break and those two stars align you are looking at a legitimate possible “big 2” at the front of the rotation going forward, allowing Ken Waldichuk and Luis Medina to vie for spots where they belong: the middle-back of the rotation. JP Sears and, if he’s still around, Paul Blackburn, become valuable innings eaters and you might have a very solid rotation.

Now you don’t have to squint much to see Miller leaving the mound clutching his elbow or Boyle trudging off with his head down following another short 5 BB performance. But despite the 10-1 score, today is a day to celebrate because Boyle’s stuff is for real and his control and command — at least in his debut, and especially for a debut — were suggestive of a successful SP with plus stuff.

I can’t wait for his next start!