Dodgers’ Battle for the Fifth: Alex Wood Vs Brandon McCarthy

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Oct 19, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during game four of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during game four of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /
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Los Angeles Dodgers
Oct 19, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during game four of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dodgers named Hyun-Jin Ryu as their number four starter which means there was only one rotation spot left. Dave Roberts announced that Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy were in consideration for the final rotation spot.

Dodgers’ pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood both had issues last season, with Wood missing time due to arthroscopic elbow surgery and McCarthy returning from Tommy John surgery. Once he returned, however, he came down with a case of the yips and struggled mightily.

Even though the Dodgers have selected Brandon McCarthy as their fifth starter, Alex Wood should have won the role. He is only 26-years-old and has the potential to be a very good starting pitcher.  Wood is also better suited to be a starting pitcher because he is effective against right-handed hitters, holding them to a .235 batting average last season versus a .271 batting average allowed against left-handed hitters. In both of Alex Wood’s past two seasons, he finished with an ERA under four, which, for a fifth starter, would rank him as one of the best fifth starters in the league.

This spring training, Alex Wood has pitched to a stat line similar to Brandon McCarthy. Wood has put up an ERA of 4.67 compared to a 4.85 ERA by McCarthy. Having watched both closely, Wood showed strong poise by working himself out of trouble in a spring start against the White Sox, with the bases loaded and no outs.

He was able to get out of the inning while allowing only one run. McCarthy, on the other hand, has been plagued by the long ball, allowing three home runs in four spring starts. McCarthy is at his best when he can induce a ton of ground outs, so the fact that he has been snake bitten by the long ball means he is not placing his pitches in the right locations for a ground-ball pitcher.

Brandon McCarthy hasn’t earned himself the reputation of being an innings eater either, having thrown only 23 innings in 2015 and 40 in 2016.  As a long reliever he would likely throw harder, since he would be used in shorter spurts, and his sinker would give the Dodgers a reliever who is capable of coming into a situation and inducing a ground-ball double-play, which would be a nice asset to have out of the bullpen. The Dodgers do not currently have a reliever who induces a ton of ground-balls.

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The only issue with McCarthy being used as a reliever is that he doesn’t have much experience as a reliever and his only relief stint last season was disastrous. He didn’t record a single out while allowing five hits and six runs. Wood had more success in his brief stint as a reliever last season, working four innings and allowing only one hit.  He also pitched two more innings as a reliever in the postseason and didn’t allow a run to score.

In reality, the only reason Brandon McCarthy carved his way onto the Dodgers’ roster is because he is scheduled to make $10 million in each of the next two seasons. The Dodgers want to find a way to utilize him instead of wasting $20 million. If his financial commitment wasn’t so much, then the Dodgers would have likely cut bait with him and handed the long reliever role to Ross Stripling, who is younger with more upside. If their salaries were the same, then Alex Wood would most likely have been named the fifth starter already.

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Despite Alex Wood being the better option for the rotation, the Dodgers went the opposite route. More often than not, the higher paid players get the first crack at proving themselves in a starting role, since being pegged as an expensive mop-up pitcher is a clear sign of a failed signing.

Given this is the major leagues and the Dodgers know Alex Wood can be effective as a reliever, they will not want to experiment with Brandon McCarthy as a reliever. It would have been a major upset if Alex Wood had won the fifth starter spot, since he was hammered in his last start to the tune of 11 hits and five earned-runs. Although Wood is the better player at this point, all we can do is hope for the best and that McCarthy will hold down the fifth starter spot until Julio Urias is called back up.

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