2017 was a tale of two halves for Dodgers starting pitcher Alex Wood. The first half saw him dominate going undefeated (10-0) with a 1.67 ERA striking out 97 batters in only 80.2 innings, in 13 starts.
This was good enough to earn him his first All-Star team selection. The second half saw him regress to the mean, going (6-3) with a 3.89 ERA striking out 54 batters in 71.2 innings. If he focuses on improving in just one area this season, we can see the 2017 first half Alex Wood all season in 2018.
Tipping his pitches?
Wood isn’t necessarily a flamethrower; his 2017 average two-seam fastball was only 91.7 mph, league average is 92.4. What separates him from the pack is his awkward delivery. He hides the ball longer than most, which doesn’t give hitters much time to get a good read on what pitch is coming. That delayed recognition makes it seem like the ball is coming in at 95 mph, a massive difference from 91 mph. In the first half, Wood allowed only two home runs in 80.2 innings. The second half saw him surrender 13 homers in 71.2 innings, a ridiculous jump. One might blame fatigue since he allowed five homers in each of September and October. Maybe he might have been tipping his pitch to the batter because 12 of the 15 homers he allowed all year came with the bases empty.
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Back to the old
Ready for an eye-popping stat? In 123.1 innings pitched in the minor leagues across two seasons (2012-2013), and two starts in 2014, Wood allowed only 2, yes two, home runs. Now while we all know the minors are a different animal than the big leagues, there has to be something about that. What was Wood doing differently than that he has been doing now since being up in the majors (2013-2017)? The easy answer is the competition is much harder, and his velocity isn’t elite, but still. What if it is something pitching coach Rick Honeycutt can help fix so that he pitches like an All-Star in all of 2018?
Taking a step forward
Wood’s 8.92 K/9 from 2017 was right in line with his career norms, even including the minors. What he did improve on a lot, which was huge, was lowering his walk rate to 2.25 BB/9, way down from the 2.82 BB/9 he was averaging the four seasons prior. Reducing the walks even more in 2018, to say 2.00 BB/9, will allow him to go deeper into games, and ease the burden on the bullpen. Averaging around six innings pitched per game, for about 30 starts, going 180 IP for the season is possible and would be more than ideal for the Dodgers. But he needs to stay healthy for this to happen which is the wild-card.
Looking for another big raise
Alex Wood signed a 1-year, $6 million contract with the Dodgers a couple of weeks ago. Going into the season at the ripe age of 27, the expected start of players prime, everything seems to line up for a career year. While there is always a chance for a player to regress, Wood has the pedigree (2nd round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves), good enough arsenal, great coaching, and monetary motivation to put together a season of maybe 17 wins, 180 Ks and 2.80 ERA in 180 IP. The key will be limiting the homers allowed. This is a best-case scenario, but not out of the realm if you look at Woods final line from 2017, 16 wins, 151 Ks and 2.72 ERA in 152.1 IP. Those are borderline ace numbers.
Cool stove, hot Wood
While it remains to be seen if the Dodgers can land big free agents Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, there is no question Wood can help Clayton Kershaw carry the pitching staff, the way he did in the first half of 2017. Look for Alex Wood to be a vital part of the success of the 2018 Dodgers by finally putting it all together by fixing just that one thing that has plagued him in the majors, home runs allowed. Being a legit #2 is what the Dodgers need from Wood if they want a chance to return to the World Series, I expect him to be on fire all season long and deliver.