Many fans have been wondering who the bearded wonder is that has been gracing the mound out of the bullpen for the Padres recently. Blaine Boyer is your average journeyman reliever. He had a fantastic rookie season and then never found out what made him so good afterwards, fading into oblivion with about five million other relief arms. He’s spent time in 10 organizations, including the Padres, and nothing had stuck with him.
Boyer is a fastball/slider guy now, after ditching his changeup prior to the 2014 campaign. He can sometimes touch the mid 90s, but usually stays lower. Nothing about him jumps out at you, except maybe the beard. But then you look at Boyer’s stats, and he’s holding guys to a 2.60 ERA and 3.29 SIERA. How did a junkballing reliever become so good? He developed a sinker.
Boyer followed suit of many other Padres pitchers to add a sinker to his repertoire. He’s used it to fuel his groundball rates. You might look at his stats and see that he’s actually inducing less grounders than his career rates, but what’s notable is that he’s been pounding the higher parts of the strike zone. He does this get more swing and misses, and counters the higher power that comes from the area by using his pitch with heavy sink.
He hasn’t just added a good sinker, but thanks to scrapping his changeup he can now work more on his slider. It’s been his best pitch, getting a 22.7% swinging strike rate, and elite number for anyone. It’s good enough to get 50% grounders as well, even when he’s throwing up in the zone. Part of what’s made it so good is he’s getting less movement on it.Instead of being a looping slider that drops both vertically and horizontally, Boyer’s 2014 version of the pitch drops almost straight down. This makes the “red circle” hitters look for in a slider tougher to see, and his results reflect the benefits of a one plane movement slider.
Great pitches will lead to great results, but also having an attack plan is critical to a reliever’s success. Boyer has historically struggled once runners get on base, but this year he’s been a pure fireman. His wOBA against drops from .246 with no one on to just .152 with runners in scoring position. Limiting runs is a pitcher’s job, and he’s made it as hard as possible for opposing teams to score.
You may be seeing a heavily bearded man come in to pitch, despite him looking more like he belongs on Duck Dynasty. Blaine Boyer has in fact become much more than just another replaceable bullpen arm. His results have improved thanks to some toying with pitches, and he’s becoming a legitimate shut down reliever.