Alex Wood has always seemed to be a bit underappreciated and underrated considering what he’s shown in his career. Wood has identical 3.33 marks for ERA and FIP over his now five-year career, but fans groan when he’s in the rotation and this year the Dodgers relegated him to the pen over two pitchers who have thrown 67.2 innings since 2014 due to injury.
If given the opportunity this year, however, it seems that Wood is ready to take advantage.
Wood’s return to relevancy started last year when his velocity bumped up to 90.6 mph, his highest since his debut year in 2013, which came primarily as a reliever. That was the result of a mechanical changes that started during last off-season, seemed to take root in late April, and really got rolling in May. While Wood’s control remained the same — 7.4 BB% in 2015 and 7.8 BB% in 2016 — he missed significantly more bats, striking out 25.9% of batters faced in 2016 compared to just 17.4% in 2015. It was progress that hinted at a plus mid-rotation arm. Unfortunately, an odd elbow injury suffered while swinging a bat derailed his season and led to surgery.
Still it didn’t derail him entirely, and he continued to refine his mechanics this past off-season, and the early returns seem promising. As previously mentioned, Wood’s 90.6 mph average fastball was his highest since 2013, and even in relief last year he averaged about 91 mph. Well so far in 2017, he’s seen that figure spike to 93.9 mph, which is an enormous uptick. Velocity has been shown to be valuable as it correlates well with performance, and a spike like this could indicate he’s ready to have a breakout season, regardless of role.
Of course, there are always necessary qualifiers. Despite the fact that he’s averaged around 94 mph in both a starting and relief role this year, and despite the fact that velocity tends to stabilize quickly, it is still just 5.2 innings of work and we probably want to see if it holds up as he gets an increased workload. Also, there appears to be a velocity spike associated with a change in measuring system, and we don’t know how much can be attributed to that. Unlikely to be four ticks worth, but any significant result could dull the excitement around this bump a bit. And there’s also the chance that, as a mechanics tinkerer, Wood’s mechanics could regress at some point in the future and he’d be back at square one.
Still, I remain optimistic about what I’ve seen from Wood thus far. Adding a grade to his fastball to go along with two above-average off-speed pitches would seem to tease an impending breakout, and that could happen regardless of role. Hopefully 2017 is the year Wood also gets the lucky breaks necessary to stay on the mound so he can change the minds of many fans, because he seems poised to do just that.