Alex Wood: Buy or Sell?
An early season match-up between the Marlins and Braves saw a Major League-record for total strikeouts without a walk (28) and helped to launch our Solo Home Run Situations study. Miami ace Jose Fernandez struck out 14 in eight innings, while his counterpart, Alex Wood, whiffed 11. Though Fernandez succumbed to Tommy John surgery less than a month later, Wood logged 171.2 innings and 2.5 WAR in his first full season in the bigs. The young lefty possesses the stuff and the stats of a budding ace, but are his notorious mechanics ready for 200 innings?
Alex Wood was drafted in 2012 and was poised to become a rotation stalwart less than two years later. With an impeccable run in the minors, the Braves tempered the urge to turn the 23-year old loose in 2014 by using him out of the bullpen for part of the season- in effect, limiting his innings. After injuries to the staff, Wood switched to the rotation for good in June and never looked back. Over the full season, the University of Georgia product (fitting he was drafted by the Braves, right?) compiled an 8.91 K/9, 2.36 BB/9, and a 45.9% groundball rate, and was even better in the second half.
The left-hander relies on a sinker, change-up, and knuckle-curve. Wood combined to throw his sinker and change-up 77.21% of the time in 2014, which shows a sustainable pitch distribution. With two strikes, the curveball rate jumped to 32.23% and carried a whiff rate of 23.19%. (For one point of reference, Clayton Kershaw used a slider or curveball in 66.3% of two-strike counts in 2014.) For fantasy purposes, the ability to rack up Ks without over-reliance on high-stress breaking balls is encouraging.
However, here’s one piece to note about Alex Wood’s curveball. Overall, Wood works down in the zone effectively with all of his pitches. The curveball is no different. Against right-handed batters, Wood located the pitch throughout the strike zone. For lefties, the pitch was used much more exclusively. Take a look at the zone profile against left-handed batters with two strikes:
Wood had a clear plan of attack against same-handed batters: work the curveball down and away. Wood was able to throw the same pitch so frequently for two reasons. First, the pitch was clearly effective. The second reason is also one of the biggest points of concern with Wood: deceptive mechanics.
Deception in a pitcher’s delivery helps disguise which pitch is coming towards the batter. Alex Wood’s herky-jerky motion begins with a severe arm stab and the glove arm helps to obscure the batter’s view of the pitch release. It’s way too convenient to suppose causality between the UCL injury (and subsequent Tommy John surgery) Wood sustained before entering college and the mechanics. At the same time, it’s not entirely fair to just wipe away any funk in mechanics because pitchers like Chris Sale make it work. Upon further review, the arm action itself is pretty clean, which supports giving Wood the benefit of the doubt.
Taking Stock of Alex Wood: Last Chance to Get In Cheap
The Atlanta Braves brought Wood along slowly considering his performance, and the young lefty responded by pitching like a borderline ace. Heading into 2015 as a member of the Braves rotation, Wood is every bit the threat to break into the ranks of the top 25 starting pitchers. Averaging 9.21 K/9 with a 48.5% groundball rate in the second half, the only knock on the 23-year old in 2014 was volume. Acquiring Alex Wood this offseason might be fantasy owners’ last chance to get in before the cost is too high to justify. With plenty of upside still, now is the time to invest.
10 Nov 2014 / Ben Flajole /
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