Image credit: Joe Boyle (Photo by Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
Joe Boyle has a big fastball, but he’s almost apologetic about it.
The Notre Dame junior righthander believes he topped out at 102 mph two summers ago in the Northwoods League, according to his teammates with the Kalamazoo Growlers, but said he isn’t sure what his maximum velocity was last summer in the Cape Cod League.
“I just see three digits and I’m pretty happy about that,” Boyle said.
Chuck Ristano, in his 10th season as Fighting Irish pitching coach, considers the 6-foot-7, 240-pound reliever a seeker, someone who is constantly looking to improve his understanding of his own arsenal and pitching in general. But there are times when he’d like to see Boyle be more direct in his mound approach.
“Having the combination of that physical ability and also his want to know everything—biomechanically, video, pitch metrics—is all part of what makes him so much fun to coach,” Ristano said. “There’s also times you want to say, ‘Hey, man, just go let that thing eat through the strike zone.’”
Boyle did that well enough for Harwich last summer to create pre-draft buzz. In 21 innings (including the playoffs) on the Cape, Boyle went 1-2, 2.14, struck out 39 batters, walked 14 and held opponents to nine hits. Scouting directors liked what they saw enough to vote him a Preseason All-American.
Boyle struggled with his control during his first two years at Notre Dame. As a freshman, he threw just two innings over eight appearances, walking eight batters and striking out one. He improved as a sophomore but still walked 27 in 25.2 innings while going 3-3, 5.96 with 39 strikeouts.
On the Cape, however, Boyle stayed in his delivery better than he had previously. He also flashed a plus 86 mph slider to go with his overpowering fastball. When he got back to campus, he spent the fall working on a circle-changeup, a necessary addition in anticipation of a possible move to the rotation.
Limited to side sessions after a busy spring and summer, Boyle spent extra time with the Rapsodo machine as he worked to tweak a pitch he knows he’ll need in longer stints. He made one start of three innings for Harwich, plus a trio of multi-inning relief appearances. In the playoffs, Harwich let him loose, and he threw the final three innings of a combined no-hitter in one appearance and then went four innings as part of a 15-inning marathon in the championship series against Cotuit.
|Bringing The Heat|
|Notre Dame righthander Joe Boyle is one of a handful of high-octane college pitchers eligible for the 2020 draft. Here are the 10 hardest throwers listed with peak velocity in miles per hour.|
|No.||Pitcher, Pos, College||Max|
|1||Joe Boyle, RHP, Notre Dame||102|
|2||Gavin Williams, RHP, East Carolina||100|
|3||Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia||100|
|4||Zach Brzykcy, RHP, Virginia Tech||100|
|5||Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia||99|
|6||Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma||99|
|7||Garrett Crochet, LHP, Tennessee||99|
|8||Bobby Miller, RHP, Louisville||99|
|9||Carmen Mlodzinski, RHP, South Carolina||98|
|10||Burl Carraway, LHP, Dallas Baptist||98|
Notre Dame invested heavily in all the latest pitch-tracking technology in recent seasons under coach Mik Aoki, who was fired in June after nine seasons. Newly hired Link Jarrett isn’t as wed to the data, but he appreciates the way Boyle uses measurable feedback in the pursuit of excellence.
“The other day I got on the Rapsodo machine and also the Edgertronic (camera), and I was working on my changeup,” Boyle said. “I was saying, ‘This pitch doesn’t look like it’s moving. It looks like it’s just straight.’ They showed me video. From my angle on the mound, you can’t see it move, but from the batter’s angle you’re going to be able to see armside run and sink.”
Boyle, who junked his curveball once he got to college, has also worked this offseason to add more late horizontal movement to a slider that had become too vertical for his tastes. Ristano said the 2,600 revolutions-per-minute slider is tunneling better now than it did last spring and ranks with Boyle’s four-seam fastball (2,300-2,600 rpm) in terms of strike-zone efficiency.
“I think the use of analytics is just to confirm a lot of old ideas and confirm whether some are true or some are false and also develop new ideas,” Boyle said. “When I’m done pitching, it’s awesome to be able to go on my phone and be able to look at my data from the game and see, ‘OK, why was something working or why wasn’t something working?’”
Boyle’s comfort level with analytics and self-discovery dates to his days playing for the St. Louis Pirates travel program.
With a namesake father who works in upper-level management for UPS, the Philadelphia-born Boyle has also lived in Southern California and suburban Louisville, where he spent his senior year of high school. But it was the seven years he spent in the St. Louis area that proved most pivotal in his development as a pitcher.
After sprouting from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-4 as a freshman at Fort Zumwalt West High in O’Fallon, Mo., Boyle was gangly for a while. The drills Boyle picked up in travel ball helped him grow into his body faster than he might have otherwise.
“Senior year was when I finally stopped growing,” Boyle said. “I could see improvements with my athleticism. Basically, what I’ve done for the past five years now is just control my body and be strong and explosive on the mound and as an athlete, too.”
Notre Dame is one of three college baseball programs that has contracted with Premier Pitching and Performance (P3) to do biomechanical assessments of its players. Charlotte and Missouri State are the others.
While Boyle was shut down in late October when P3 visited Notre Dame, he stopped by the facility while back in St. Louis over winter break. Thanks to a computer program that converts video into 3-D models, Boyle was able to skip the sensors and just throw.
“They can look at every position: your kinematics, your kinetic positions—and see, ‘How are you moving? Are you efficient? Are you rotating correctly? What are your rotation speeds?’ ” Boyle said. “It’s hard to look at someone with your naked eye and see if they’re moving well. Even using a camera, you don’t know exactly. But these give you precise numbers, so we can get drills to correct those movements.”
Now that two-sport lefthander Cole Kmet has applied for early entry in the NFL draft, where he projects as one of the first tight ends taken this April, the spotlight has found Boyle as a potential staff ace for the Irish.
Whether he becomes the Friday night starter or assumes closer duties, Boyle will have much to say about the outcome of Jarrett’s first season after being hired away from UNC Greensboro. His changeup acts more like a two-seam fastball at this point, Jarrett said, but he knows that’s OK for someone with 102 in the tank.
Boyle’s performance this spring will also have major draft implications. A strong season, whether it comes in the rotation or bullpen, would have him moving up draft boards. An emergence as Notre Dame’s ace could push him into the first round.
Scouts were interested in Boyle coming out of high school and he showed off the same big arm when he pitched at Wrigley Field in the Under Armour All-America Game in 2016. But he officially opted out of the draft the next spring.
Interest is piquing again. Twenty-two major league teams have sent scouts in to meet with Boyle since the start of the fall semester, by the pitcher’s own count, but he isn’t about to let that knock him off track now. Parents Joe and Renee raised him and younger brother Nick, who has signed to pitch at Xavier next year, to be unassuming.
With a 3.1 GPA at Notre Dame’s business school, Boyle carries himself like a normal student—until he steps on the mound.
“It’s refreshing to see a kid who strives to be great at everything he does,” Ristano said. “It’s easy to get intoxicated by the measurables, but what’s important with Joe is the trajectory. I really believe that trajectory is going to lead him to pitching in the big leagues at 24, 25 years old.”