Nowadays, typical fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers never seem to be satisfied. Understandably, it is tough to blame them, being that it’s been 27 years and counting since the team’s last World Series championship.
And the same typical fans can sometimes be a bit delusional — as we all very well know. Usually, it’s the constant criticism of the front office not spending more money, trading away a player who was a fan favorite, or not making that blockbuster deal just moments before the trade deadline. The psychological progressions and maddening obsessions eventually lead to the fans’ own personal greed and uninformed opinions coming to light, instead of realizing what’s best for the team in the long run.
The same can be said for Dodgers’ pitcher Alex Wood, at least up until several weeks ago. The moments after the team signed free agent pitchers Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda, the unenlightened fans began to work their glamour, calling for an immediate trade, only because the starting rotation was now overloaded with players who were more talented than Wood, and the bullpen already had two left-handed pitchers and two long men.
The fans had somewhat of a right to be critical, though, as Wood’s time in a Dodgers uniform after being acquired from the Braves resulted in a bit of a roller coaster ride.
His decreased velocity led to a plummeting strikeout rate. In 2014, he flaunted a respectable 8.91 K/9, while his overall numbers last year produced a mere 6.60 K/9. His 116 ERA- and 106 FIP- for the Dodgers were well below his career averages. And the home and away splits were also extremely noticeable.
Wood made five starts at Dodger Stadium, and all five were quality starts, reeling out a 2.41 ERA, a 3.25 FIP, a 20.2 percent strikeout rate and a 4.1 percent walk rate.
On the road, however, Wood made seven starts after joining the Dodgers, and just one was a quality start, resulting in a 6.14 ERA, a 4.88 FIP, a 14.3 percent strikeout rate and a 10.7 percent walk rate.
And to boot, a pitcher with a fastball topping out at 89 mph, an extremely low arm slot and a very strange delivery is never overly appealing to the typical fan.
All that being said, it came to light about a week ago that Wood has spent his whole Dodger career playing with a bone bruise in his right foot.
LA Times beat writer for the Dodgers, Andy McCullough, was first to report the details of the injury on February 22. In his final game with the Braves, Wood rolled his right ankle on a play covering first base. A bone bruise developed in his foot, which pained him every time his foot landed when he threw.
Wood used almost the entire winter letting his foot heal, and once he was able to throw pain-free, began to polish and fine-tune his mechanics.
“I had already gotten into some bad habits mechanically,” Wood said. “So it was a long offseason full of trying to get back to where I needed to be.”
The news of Wood’s injury, coupled with the actuality of Hyun-jin Ryu‘s delayed return, left fans more forgiving and forced them to realize that Wood is much more valuable to the team than what they perceived originally.
As for the beginning of the season, Wood will more than likely slot into the fifth spot in the rotation, at least until Ryu is ready to return, which could extend into May.
It’s been a number of years since the Dodgers’ main starting rotation stayed healthy for the bulk of a season, and Wood will remain on alert to fill any need when an injury does occur.
Early estimates for the usage of Ryu were calculated at the 20-start and 150-inning range. No projections were given for Maeda; however, both Maeda and Ryu are accustomed to throwing once per week rather than every five days, which may leave another door open for Wood.
It could be easy enough to sculpt a potential six-man rotation, where Wood would pitch on Maeda and Ryu’s scheduled fifth day, stretching time between starts and giving Maeda and Ryu the required rest that was common in their homelands — a large enough role to warrant Wood a spot on the 25-man roster.
As for the future, so long as his numbers stay stable and consistent, Wood is more valuable to the club than many fans realize. Brett Anderson is signed only through the 2016 campaign, while Kazmir’s contract involves a potential opt-out after this season. Brandon McCarthy, who is expected to return at some point during 2016, is only signed through 2017.
In terms of team control, Wood will not be eligible for free agency until the year 2020, and has all three option years remaining on his contract — a scenario that is valued very highly by today’s front offices.
Nevertheless, utilizing an option and being sent to the minors for any length of time isn’t an alternative in Wood’s eyes.
“I’m going to be in the rotation,” he said. “That’s the plan. That’s the thing I hate about the offseason, about spring training. I’m more about action than about talk. I plan on being in the rotation. And I don’t plan on leaving.”