The Dodgers have had a relatively quiet offseason, save for the one Matt Kemp trade, which makes you wonder how they will fill team needs. One of those needs is pitching, both starting and relieving, and Alex Wood could fill one of those.
It seems as if Alex Wood has become a forgotten man for the Dodgers. It was not long ago when he was LA’s second ace behind Clayton Kershaw and earned his first All-Star bid as a player. But then Yu Darvish arrived, Rich Hill caught fire, and Wood’s production started to decline, and he wound up as the team’s fourth starter in the playoffs.
Last season he threw 152.1 innings in 27 games (25 starts) and posted a 2.72 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and recorded 151 strikeouts en route to a ninth-place finish in Cy Young voting. He was a much-needed emergence for the Dodgers.
And those two relief appearances brings up the question of what his role on the team should be. In those two relief appearances, he threw 5.1 hitless innings with just one walk. As a starter, 147 innings in which he had a 2.82 ERA.
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He was brought up and employed as a starter. Since his second season in 2014, he has started in 91 of 108 games. He has a track record of being a solid starter, but it hurt to wonder how effective he’d be as a reliever.
As a starter, he allowed a .639 OPS against him but relief, albeit in limited time, a .053 OPS. There are other factors to consider as well though. He has had health problems throughout his career, especially as of late, so you question his durability. And he didn’t even average six innings per start, which makes you wonder, if he isn’t going to prevent the bullpen from working hard, should you just move him into a role that requires him to pitch less?
His velocity dropped as the season went on, questioning both his health and stamina. But the velocity would not change too much as the game waned on, but that is relative to how hard he was throwing that day. And he poses a bit of a dilemma when you start talking about how deep he goes into games and how many times a team sees him.
The batting averages against are actually better or very similar the third time through the order, but the slugging percentages get a little higher. So while he may be as effective, or better, regarding the number of times he gives up a hit, each hit usually causes more damage.
There is also the number of starters the Dodgers have, to take into consideration. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Brock Stewart, Walker Buehler, Trevor Oaks possibly, Julio Urias eventually, and maybe a Yu Darvish return? Without Darvish and Urias, they still have perhaps seven guys to deploy.
You can bring him in for one inning or three. Whatever the need. Think of Brandon Morrow but with more pitches to work with. Pairing him with one of the younger guys at times would be ideal because they will have hard times going deep. And if the game is close and on the line in the fourth or fifth inning, Wood would be the perfect option.
From pitches 1-45, hitters hit .214/.263/.330, further providing proof that he’d be best suited to go all out (if he has to) for two to three innings or face the lineup one time through. You want to be around 15 pitches per inning to be efficient, so that would equate to about three innings or so if he works quick.
But he can also come in for one inning, four outs, or anything else. The only role he should not have is a lefty-specialist and for two reasons. One, he is essentially the same against righties and lefties. Second, and more importantly, that would be a waste of his ability. Putting him in the bullpen would maximize his talent.
He wouldn’t be bad as a starter, but has never cracked 200 innings in his career and will eventually wear down as the season goes on, as he showed last year. His post All-Star break ERA of 3.89 compared to 1.67 before is evidence of that, along with the decline in velocity. He got tired and hurt, and you want to avoid that.
A left-handed Alex Wood throwing 93-95, touching 96 mph, with a funky delivery and good secondary stuff for two to three innings would be a terrific weapon, and it maximizes his potential. It’s up to the team to take advantage of it.