Lost in the news over the past 7-10 days, the Los Angeles Dodgers made yet another under-the-radar pickup. Alex Wood, who struggled in Cincinnati last season, heads back to Southern California and hopes to rebound after a rough 2019.
Alex Wood in 2019
Wood joined the third team of his career last season after being traded in December of 2018 to the Cincinnati Reds. At first glance, it seemed that Wood would fit right in with the Reds, given his ability to generate ground balls and weak contact. A sinker-ball pitcher, the North Carolina native had GB% rates of at least 50% or higher from 2015-2018. A ground-ball pitcher who can generate consistent weak contact against opposing hitters in a hitter-friendly ballpark seemed like a natural fit, until it wasn’t.
Wood struggled to stay healthy in 2019, as a back injury kept him out of MLB action until the end of July. Once he came back from the IL, Wood pitched in 7 games (all starts), but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in Los Angeles. Wood recorded a 5.80 ERA, along with a 1.40 WHIP in 2019, a far cry from the 2.72 ERA he had in 2017. However, what was even more telling was that the GB% rate for Wood went down considerably in 2019. Wood had a GB% rate of 38.9% in 2019, not only lower than his typical rates, but lower than the MLB average.
When looking at each of Wood’s pitches, the sinker was Wood’s most effective offering in 2019. His sinker actually generated a higher Whiff% in 2019 than in 2018, and the exit velocity numbers (86.4 MPH average, which was actually down from 2018) weren’t bad either. However, the changeup and curve for Wood in 2019 were noticeably different. The velocity on Wood’s changeup was down from previous seasons, and the same can be said for his curve. And the drop in velocity may have very well been a reason as to why opposing hitters pounded him last season.
Here’s a breakdown of Wood’s changeup and curve from the 2017 season (Wood’s best statistical season to date) and last season to see what I mean:
|Year||Pitch||% Pitch Use||MPH||Exit Velocity||Opp. SLG|
The velocity dip could be attributed to Wood’s back issues, which shut him down in late August and cost him all of the final month of 2019. It wasn’t an ideal 2019 season for Wood, one that was supposed to a pivotal year for the left-handed pitcher. Wood entered the free agency pool for the first time this fall, and would have been in line for a multi-year deal had he been healthy and effective in 2019. Now, he heads back to the Dodgers, where he’ll hope to rebound after last season.
Can Wood Rebound in 2020?
There’s good reason to believe he can rebound after a tough 2019. The sinker for Wood was still effective last season, and the curve spin rates didn’t go down either despite the back injury. The velocity was down last season, but as we mentioned previously, that can be attributed to the back problems Wood had in 2019. If Wood stays healthy in 2020, a comeback season could be in his sights.
And as for the Dodgers, this is, just like the Jimmy Nelson pickup, yet another slick and under-the-radar move from the defending NL West Champions. While this offseason hasn’t been one where they’ve been able to bring another superstar to Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers still have arguably the most talented roster in the NL, along with a stacked farm system. The Dodgers did lose Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of their best performers in 2019, this winter, but with Wood and Nelson joining a staff that already includes Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Walker Buehler, they’re going to be just fine (we didn’t even mention Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin).
It’s not a sexy pickup, but you can’t go wrong with a pitcher like Wood, who when healthy and on his game, can be one of the better dominant ground-ball pitchers in the game.
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