by Joel Cicchella
One game does not a season make. This is the immediate advice I would give to any Alex Wood owner or potential owner. Wood put up the lowest ERA for a rookie in the month of
August since 1955, other than Cal Eldred in 1992 and some other rookie pitching this year named Jose Fernandez. That said Wood clearly did not have good stuff this past Sunday against the Marlins, as he was pulled after 2.1 innings while allowing 7 ER. For everyone screaming regression after the Marlins game, Wood’s FIP for the year is still at 2.61. His K% is still 25% and BB% is still 8.1%. Those are excellent and league average respectively.
Before the Marlins game on Sunday, I decided to profile Wood’s previous start against the Indians. Wood was matched up against Danny Salazar, another young pitcher with good stuff. At the time the Indians were ninth the majors with a 0.321 team wOBA, and the Marlins were dead last with a 0.276 wOBA, so I decided the start against the better offense would be more telling. I believe a great way to get to know a pitcher is to watch so I’ll highlight a few of the Indians at-bats against Wood pitch-by-pitch.
We’ll dive into the at-bats, but you should know a few things about Wood first. He throws 3 pitches: a four-seam fastball, a changeup and a knuckle-curve. He’s a lefty with low 90’s fastball velocity. His best pitch is his changeup at 1.24 runs above average per 100 pitches. When watching Wood pitch, the first thing you’ll notice is his unique delivery. It’s hard to describe, but one might say he violently whips his left arm around. It’s unique.
Michael Bourn is batting leadoff and Wood starts him off with a 91 mph fastball on the outside corner. Nice command, as it hits McCann square in the glove. Next pitch is an 85 mph changeup that misses inside and Bourn lays off for a ball. Wood comes back with a changeup that’s low and outside. He’s missing early with the changeup. The 4th pitch is a fastball that was supposed to be away, but missed right down the middle and Bourn hits a soft single up the middle.
Next up is Nick Swisher batting from the right side and Wood starts him off with a fastball down in the zone, this time at 92 mph, that Swisher fouls off. Wood then throws a pitchout, but Bourn is not going, 1-1. Wood goes back to the fastball down and Swisher again fouls it off. He’s hit his spot on three of four fastballs and the one that missed ended up a single, and I imagine that’ll usually happen with a 91 mph fastball. He throws over to hold on Bourn, but then goes back to the fastball; too low, 2-2. Wood then goes to the knuckle-curve for the first time and it’s a good one with 6 in of horizontal break and 6 in of vertical break. Swisher gets caught looking for the first out and Wood’s first strikeout.
Wood’s first pitch in the top of the second is a fastball on the inner half that Asdrubal Cabrera fouls off. Wood goes back to the fastball and Cabrera lines it hard, but foul, up the third base line. McCann wanted it up and Wood left that pitch belt high, but he’s ahead 0-2. Wood then throws him a nice changeup low and away that Cabrera has to reach for it. He weakly hits it for an infield single. Unlucky.
Next up is Drew Stubbs and Wood throws a 91 mph fastball that paints the inside corner. Nice pitch. Wood goes back inside with a fastball in the same location, but this time it’s called a ball. Wood then goes to the knuckle curve that ends up well inside and he’s behind 2-1. Now back to the fastball inside and Stubbs fouls it off. Wood then throws a slow 77 mph knuckle-curve that freezes Stubbs and pitch f/x says catches plenty of plate on the outside, but is called a ball. Tough break, as that was a nice pitch. With the count full, Wood then throws a fastball, but it’s outside. His second walk.
The Braves scored two in the bottom of the second for Wood. Carlos Santana is the 4th batter of the inning and he pops up a middle high fastball on the first pitch, but out of play. Wood then goes to the change-up and it’s a beauty, 0-2. Now another fastball and another foul. Wood throws the knuckle curveball that’s well outside. Wood tries to get Santana to chase up and out of the zone, but he lays off the high fastball 2-2. Now a nice changeup that Santana wastes foul. Wood now throws a fastball in the dirt. Full count. Finally, a fastball outside. A good at bat by Santana, but Wood should have had him starting 0-2 and then walking him.
The last at bat is a good example of where a more experienced pitcher likely would have finished off the hitter. In this outing, Wood’s fastball velocity remained steady through the sixth inning. This is something you like to see from a young pitcher, showing he’s able to handle the workload and not overtax himself too early.
Facing a top ten MLB offense in the Indians Wood was effective if not efficient. It would have been nice to see him get through the sixth, but the Braves didn’t want to leave the 22 year old in after 105 pitches. Wood is not the only young talented starter to struggle with efficiency as Zack Wheeler and Shelby Miller have both failed to go deep into games at times this year. However, Wood got squeezed on some pitches and all the walks were not entirely his doing.
He is unique in that he is a talented young pitcher that didn’t receive much hype going into the season and only joined the Braves starting rotation starting in the last two months. Owners will likely be frustrated with Wood’s latest stumble and he may have been dropped in your league. I’d continue to trust his FIP, and in keeper and dynasty leagues value his age at only 22. When Wood locates his fastball, it enables him to use the changeup, and that is extremely effective.
xFIP – Expected Fielding Independent Pitching
K% – Strikeout percentage
BB% – Walk percentage
wOBA – (Weighted On-Base Average) is one of the most important and popular catch-all offensive statistics. It was created by Tom Tango (and notably used in “The Book”) to measure a hitter’s overall offensive value, based on the relative values of each distinct offensive event.