Alex Wood has arisen from the ashes after being traded for practically nothing, and has become a star pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, even challenging Clayton Kershaw for the title of best pitcher on the staff. Wood has always had the stuff, as evidenced by his career ERA of 3.09. However, in a year in which Wood began in the bullpen and only moved to the rotation because of injuries, everything has clicked for the young southpaw.
Dave Roberts is Criminally Underusing Alex Wood
While Wood currently does not have enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard, his ERA of 1.56 would lead the league. While many pitchers can have lucky halves and post much better ERAs than peripherals suggest, Wood is different. Every advanced stat points to the fact that Wood will continue his dominance. Wood has the lowest FIP of anybody in the league (2.05), and evidence shows that FIP is one of the most reliable stats for predicting future success.
Further, Wood is keeping the ball on the ground, as he has a superb 63.7% ground ball rate. This ground ball rate, coupled with only 20% hard contact against, has helped Wood limit home runs and extra base hits. Wood has hitters confused at the plate, as he strikes them out 30.2% of the time and only walks batters 6.9% of the time. All these factors point to Wood continuing to be an elite starting pitcher for the Dodgers.
The one constant knock against Wood is his injury history; he is being labeled as an “injury prone” starter. However, Wood has tried to deflect those concerns, per MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick:
“In college and the Draft, the way I threw always threw people off and I always told people, ‘If you know anything about pitching, I have good mechanics. As long as you get there it doesn’t matter how you get there.’ From 2009 to 2016, I had a pretty clean record, and I got hurt last year swinging a bat. You get to the point where you wonder, ‘When do people stop saying those things?’ But at this stage, I try not to look into everything that everybody says.”
However, it seems his own manager, Roberts, doesn’t believe Wood. Roberts tends to manage Wood like he is 18 or coming back from Tommy John surgery; neither is the case. Roberts consistently pulls Alex Wood after only 75-90 pitches, often while Wood is pitching a shutout. The baseball world understands being careful with pitchers; however, Wood is not a rookie and has pitched 586 innings in his career, and 190 in a season. There is no reason for Roberts to be this careful with Wood; he often clearly has much left in his tank when pulled.
Roberts’ Use of Wood Hurts the Team
Take Wood’s last start as an example. Wood threw six shutout innings and only allowed three hits and one walk. That is a very solid start and there never a point at which Wood was really struggling. However, Roberts took a perfectly healthy pitcher out with only 80 pitches and a healthy lead. Wood is a very efficient pitcher and is able to go six to eight innings in under 100 pitches. However, the Dodgers are just wasting Wood; they are tiring out the bullpen while Wood still has plenty of energy. His last start was no fluke, as he has not surpassed 100 pitches this year and is often pulled with a pitch count in the low 80s.
The folks on Twitter are outraged, as many fans would like to see Wood unleashed.
The Dodgers' paranoid management of Alex Wood's pitch count is fascinating (and frustrating)
— Daniel Brim (@DanielBrim) July 6, 2017
Alex Wood was CRUISING through 7. Why would any pinch-hitter scare you into taking him off the mound at such a low pitch count??
— Dodger Talk (@Kershizer77) July 6, 2017
The best part of being a dad is when your 10-year-old walks in, sees the score and pitch count, and says, “Alex Wood might get a Maddux!”
— Jeff J. Snider (@snidog) July 6, 2017
Alex Wood projected pitch count tonight: 30 #dodgers
— DodgersCheesehead (@nerdyDodger) July 6, 2017
Wood has been dominant this season, yet is being limited by his overly-concerned manager. He will likely lose out on the Cy Young because of it.