While the playoff roster for the NLDS is shaping up relatively quickly, the prospective roles of the players who’ll make the squad are still somewhat undefined. The management team and the coaching staff of the Dodgers still have plenty of decisions on their hands, and determining the planned usage of southpaws Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu may be among the biggest.
As it’s almost a foregone conclusion that both Wood and Ryu will indeed make the 25-man NLDS roster, which player is included in the rotation and which player is relegated to the bullpen continues to remain in question.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday afternoon, not long after skipper Dave Roberts told reporters that he was noncommittal about Wood’s role in the postseason, many of the opinions floating around the Los Angeles blogosphere centered around a debate of which lefty was the better rotation option in the playoffs.
There are plenty of arguments, basic statistics, and even more advanced peripherals that seemingly benefit each player. Wood’s ERA and FIP for the entire 2017 campaign, 2.72 and 3.32, respectively, run circles around Ryu’s marks of 3.47 and 4.45. But there’s also the debate that Ryu has the hotter hand lately, as made evident by him having allowed just two earned runs over his last three starts. While that’s indeed an impressive mark, it conveniently excludes the six-earned run, eight-hit drubbing that he suffered against the Diamondbacks in four innings of work on August 30.
Some of the more valid reasoning suggests that because of Ryu’s past shoulder problems, it takes him much longer to stretch his arm and get loose, which would obviously cause a hindrance when preparing as a reliever. Ironically enough, Wood proved that he was a true weapon in relief early in the season when he fired 5-1/3 frames of no-hit ball in early April, which impressed the coaching staff enough to promote him to the rotation later that same month.
One of several figures which certainly favors Wood is his propensity to last longer in a starting role when compared to Ryu. While it’s certainly not a jaw-dropping number, Wood has averaged 5.9625 innings per start this season, as opposed to Ryu’s 5.25. And as it definitely raises an eyebrow, it could be countered with a hypothetical model of Ryu providing a handful of quality innings, conceivably piggy-backed by a long relief outing by Wood—a strategy reminiscent of the Rich Hill and Julio Urias combination in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS against the Nationals.
While most of the logic points to Wood as being the better starting option, another factor to consider is whether it’s a smart choice to leave Ryu—if using him as a reliever is ruled out— off the roster completely. There would be a few options to fill that particular vacancy on the 25-man roster—most specifically Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart or Walker Buehler—yet, in the end, Ryu’s value is seemingly higher than any one of those three options.
So, if it’s a “starting rotation or bust” decision being deliberated by the management crew, there is a bit of objective thought that supports including Hyun-Jin in the playoff rotation over Wood. It’s not much, but it could be enough to give Ryu the nod.
Not to be ignored is the fact that the prospective NLDS opponent could somehow weigh into the decision. Compared to Ryu, Wood has been much more effective against the Diamondbacks—Wood has a 3.06 ERA to Ryu’s 5.44—but Ryu has the better lifetime ERA against the Rockies—3.77 to Wood’s 4.97.
As far as Wood goes, however, he’s already done as much as he possibly could have from an auditioning or competition standpoint. On merit alone, he’s already worked his way into the rotation once, and to be relegated to the bullpen for the postseason could be a bit damaging to the lefty’s psyche.
“It’s out of my control, but I expect to start,” Wood said earlier in the week. “I’ve been pretty good all year. I think guys trust me with the ball in my hands, so we’ll see what happens.”
But even if he’s ultimately assigned to the relief corps, Wood believes the more important issue at hand is the success of the team itself in October—or, at least that’s what he is saying publicly.
“It is what it is. I’ve thrown pretty good and would love to start and appreciate the opportunity, it’ll be my fourth time in the postseason. I’m just excited for us to finally get to October and go on from there.”
In the meantime, as hints about the 25-man NLDS roster are revealed by Roberts and the management team between now and next weekend, fans will patiently wait. Either way, even though Wood is probably the better rotation option in the end, he may just get bumped out again come October 6.
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