Our player previews continue with young left-hander Alex Wood.
With the Dodgers looking for starting help at the trade deadline last season, the front office balked at the asking price for top arms David Price and Cole Hamels and instead turned their attention to Alex Wood and Mat Latos (among others). At just 25, Wood has looked like one of the games better young starters at times but enters the 2016 season looking to rebound from a sub-par Sophomore campaign.
More from Dodgers Way
- Giants sign former Dodgers pitcher in another move that’ll get them nowhere
- Kevin Kiermaier being ‘top target’ to replace Cody Bellinger is bad sign for Dodgers
- Are the Dodgers really prepared to hand Shohei Ohtani a blank check?
- Dodgers fans shouldn’t dismiss interest in Dansby Swanson for this reason
- Giants laughably sign pitcher that Dodgers absolutely own
A lot of things went wrong for Wood in 2015, despite that however, he still managed to post a 3.84 ERA in 189.2 IP, split between the Braves and Dodgers. Perhaps he biggest issue Wood faced was the continuing decline in his fastball velocity. As a 22 year old in 2013, Wood’s fastball averaged a respectable 92.52 mph, however, over a 2 year span that figure has fallen to just 89.77 mph.
Unsurprisingly, this coincided with a dramatic fall in his strikeout rate, from 25% in 2014 to just 17% in 2015. When a noticeable fall in strikeout rate is paired with average walk and ground ball rates, it’s not difficult to see why Wood struggled in 2015.
2016 Role and Steamer Projections
Coming into the season, Wood looked to be on the outside looking in when it came to a starting role this season. After his shaky 2015 season and the loss of Zack Greinke, the Dodgers went out and signed Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda in free agency. The presence of those two arms meant that Wood was likely destined for the bullpen (or the trade block in 2016). However, following Brett Anderson’s back injury and Hyun-Jin Ryu’s struggles returning from shoulder surgery, Wood now looks to be locked in as the number 4 starter on Opening Day.
This season, Steamer projects Wood to finish with a record of 11-11 with a 3.71 ERA in 192 IP. Somehow the system projects the left-hander to make 30 appearances in relief on top of 28 starts (58 appearances in total), which would be rather amazing but I think we’ll have to overlook that for now. Positively, Steamer projects some of Wood’s peripherals to rebound – noticeably his K/9 (7.2 from 6.6) – which should help him improve in 2016.
With the early injuries in the rotation, the Dodgers will need to maximise their output from the first four starters in the rotation to avoid falling behind in what could be an interesting division race. Wood posting the projected numbers (and hopefully better) would certainly be a step in the right direction
What Could Go Wrong?
Most obviously, Wood could continue to tumble along with his existing trends. If the fastball continues to regress, the former 2nd round pick could see himself out of a job in 2016. Wood’s fastball already ranked close to last in chase rate in 2015 (20.7%) and any further loss in velocity could make the pitch unserviceable.
Intuitively, a loss in fastball velocity is also going to have flow-on effects for his other offerings. A decrease in fastball velocity often causes a pitchers secondary pitches to become less effective. This would likely result in a further decrease in his strikeout rate, rendering Wood almost unusable in a starting capacity.
Any discussion regarding Alex Wood and risk must also necessarily mention the likelihood of injury, so I’ll leave some video below so you can see for yourself.
What Could Go Right?
Thankfully, after all that was mentioned above there are actually some reasons to be genuinely excited about Wood in 2016. Firstly, as Wood rightly noted in an interview earlier this week, his mechanics have been slowly getting worse over the last 3 years. Thanks to Brooks Baseball we can track Wood’s release point throughout his career:
As you can see, Wood’s release point has been rapidly slipping since the early portion of the 2014 season. Perhaps not uncoincidently, Wood’s velocity chart follows a strikingly similar pattern.
If Wood has successfully re-worked his mechanics and found his release point of old, then there is every reason, based on the charts above, to believe that Wood can recapture his fastball. If Wood can get his fastball past Major League hitters again, then he should be a major boost to the Dodgers rotation in 2016.