(Photo Credit: John Minchillo/AP)
It almost feels like it’s becoming a tradition during the offseason to write a short little story about Alex Wood, discussing how he fits into the Dodgers‘ pitching staff for the upcoming campaign. Next thing you know, management and trainers will be telling reporters that southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu is at his peak physically, and is ready to take on a heavy workload during Cactus League play.
At the beginning of spring training last year, Wood was right on the fringe of the starting rotation, up until the point it was deemed that Ryu would remain on the shelf, and when team officials announced that Brett Anderson required surgery on his back to repair a damaged disc.
Coming off a winter where he finally let a bruise on his left foot heal, Wood said he felt better than ever, and it showed with more than a three-tick improvement on his fastball velocity. Once touted as a prized prospect in the Braves’ organization, he flaunted a respectable 8.91 K/9 in 2014, but after being acquired by the Dodgers in July of the following year, his strikeout rate dropped to a mere 6.60 per nine innings for the remainder of the season. His 116 ERA- and 106 FIP- for the Dodgers in 2015 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, though, 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.
All that being said, feeling fresh with invigoration and motivated by a few successful alterations in his throwing mechanics, Wood slid into the No. 4 hole in the rotation to begin the 2016 season, while rookie Ross Stripling surprised everyone in Dodgertown and earned his way into the fifth slot.
Wood would go on to make 10 mediocre starts through May of 2016 before he was forced to the disabled list to rest his elbow for a month because of an apparent posterior impingement. Ultimately, he underwent an arthroscopic debridement procedure on his elbow and missed an additional eight weeks. Although it appeared as if his season was finished, Wood persevered through rehab and went on to make four impressive relief appearances of shutout ball down the stretch of the regular season, ultimately earning a spot on the NLCS roster against the Cubs in October.
Assuming he’s healthy entering 2017 spring camp, the 6’4″ Charlotte native will presumably be in competition with Ryu, Stripling, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Jose De Leon for the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Barring any setbacks or injuries, resident ace Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Julio Urias will man the one through four slots, respectively.
Because he has already proven himself to throw effectively in relief, Wood might also be an option in the bullpen, especially if the Dodgers decide not to sign a free-agent setup man like Joe Blanton or Greg Holland, for example. With a bullpen compiled mostly of fearless and talented youngsters, many of whom have options, the Dodgers could theoretically shuffle the big league relief corps as frequently as they wish, with the main goal of having about a half-dozen fresh arms in the hopper at any given point time.
If he’s completely healthy and his mechanics are in tune, and assuming he’s not part of a prospective trade package over the next few months, there’s no question that Wood could become a significant contributor to the Dodgers’ pitching staff in 2017. He’s already shown a few sizable glimpses of proficiency in his first four major league seasons, primarily made evident during his 2014 campaign when he tallied 170 strikeouts and a respectable 2.78 ERA over 171-2/3 innings of work.
Just where exactly he fits into the puzzle, however, probably depends on how well he throws through the spring, and how the staff shapes up as a whole on the injury front.