Last month around the trade deadline, I wrote a post encouraging the Atlanta Braves to acquire John Lackey. My reasoning being that the Braves could add a reliable starting pitcher to the rotation and shift Alex Wood to the bullpen, solving their need for a left-handed reliever. Looking back that is perhaps one of the dumbest statements I have ever made. It’s a good thing I’m not sitting in the general manager’s office in Atlanta. This season Alex Wood is proving that he belongs in the starting rotation permanently.
Wood’s debut last season was very successful. He posted a 3-3 record with a 3.13 ERA in 77.2 innings. The coaching staff shuffled him between the rotation and the bullpen throughout the season, which seemed to frustrate him at times. Nevertheless, he continued to perform well despite the confusion over his role.
The beginning of 2014 saw more of the same for Wood. After starting the season in the rotation the organization elected to move him back to the pen to limit his innings. He struggled in the bullpen, ending his time as reliever with a 4.70 ERA in 15.1 innings. After his struggle, the Braves wisely decided to insert him back into the struggling starting rotation.
As a starter in 2014, Wood has thrown 107.2 innings, compiled a 2.84 ERA while striking out 101 batters. He has also held opponents to a .242 batting average during those starts. He was particularly good in a recent start against the rival Washington Nationals, where he went 7.1 innings allowing a single run while striking out 12.
Before that start Buster Olney (ESPN) posted a fantastic article about the development of Wood’s curveball. If you have ESPN Insider I highly recommend checking it out. This article led me to do a little digging of my own.
When he was coming up through the Braves system his fastball was thought to be average, his changeup was considered his best pitch, and his curveball was considered a work in progress. That is reflected in the usage rates of his pitches last season. According to BrooksBaseball.net in 2013 Wood threw his fastball 63.8 percent of the time, his changeup 21.4 percent of the time, and his curveball 14. 8 percent of the time. His changeup was clearly his “out pitch” last season.
In 2014 those numbers have shifted. So far this season Wood has thrown his fastball 59.67 percent of the time, his changeup 17.7 percent of the time, and his curveball 22.37 percent of the time. It is clear Wood is much more confident in his curveball and it is making a difference. Adding that to his arsenal gives him another weapon to attack hitters with along with that plus changeup.
The addition of this improved breaking ball is also a great example of a player who was not satisfied with the success he had last season. Alex Wood saw something he needed to work on and worked hard on eliminating that weakness. He did not get complacent over this offseason, to me that is impressive and says a tremendous amount about his “makeup” as a player.
It appears that all the shuffling from bullpen to rotation for Alex Wood is finally over. For whatever reason, Wood performs better as a starter and the rotation is where he should stay. Having a defined role makes it easier for players to go out and do their job, without the added distraction of wondering how the team plans on using them.
He is proving that he is a vital part of the Braves rotation and will be for the foreseeable future. Last month I submitted a post claiming that Julio Teheran had solidified himself as the ace of this Atlanta Braves pitching staff. If Wood continues to pitch like he has lately, Julio is going to have some competition for that number one spot.