Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Alex Wood Is a Force

Not getting any run support has to be tough on a pitcher. We statheads get a bad rap because some people believe we think players are thoughtless, lifeless voids playing as if they were computers. This is a ridiculous viewpoint, but it still seems to be the prevailing thought as if statistical analysis somehow negates the sense that baseball players are, ya know, human beings. For instance, it must be tough on a pitcher to know that each time he goes out, there will be no runs to work with. The pressure of knowing that just giving up a solo homerun could be the difference between a win or a loss must be taxing on a player's mind.

Otto Greule Jr | Getty Images Sport
But Alex Wood seemed to thrive even though he was so royally screwed by his offense last year. Only two NL starters pitched at least 125 innings last year and received less than three runs of support per game start. Eric Stults, in camp as a Braves minor league free agent, received just 2.5 runs of support last year. Wood is the other one. 2.8 runs of support each game start. This is why the win-loss record should be retired. Wood was 11-11 last year while Ervin Santana was 14-10. Wood thoroughly outpitched Santana, but the Braves loved Santana so much they gave him 4.3 RS/GS. Lucky bastard.

The Braves actually won just ten of Wood's 24 starts, the worst win-loss% on the team. But he also was tied with the league-lead in tough losses with seven, which are classified as games where you have a game score of 50 or better, but you still take the L. Wood finished sixth in the league with an average game score of 60.2, by the way. Clayton Kershaw had a 70.3 average, but Wood was just five points back from second place. I wrote about Game Score before and as flawed as it might be, it gives us a good idea of the pitcher's overall performance.

That tells us that despite not getting any runs of support, Wood pitched as well as any pitcher in the National League last season not named Kershaw and had the ability to not let his win-loss record bother him to the point that it affected his pitching. Maybe that mental strength came from being told for so long that his delivery was too ugly to let him be successful. I don't personally know, but I do know that when a kid averages 101 pitches per game and 79% of his starts are classified as quality starts, there's something here to be excited about. I still like Julio Teheran to have the better career, but Wood's off to just about as good of a start.

His saber stats check out as well. In 171.2 ING last year, he posted a 3.25 FIP built in no small part by a 3.8 K/BB rate. Overall his nearly 250 inning career, he has a 3.19 xFIP. There is absolutely no sign that this is a fluke. Even if you think his delivery is playing a part as far as deception goes and he's due for a significant injury lay-off, you have to concede that up until this point, he's been better than even advertised.

All of this brings me to think that 2015 might be Wood's year and that's saying something considering how good he's been already. Up until now, the Braves have limited Wood by using him as a reliever at times over the last two years to keep his innings down. But it might be time for the Braves to take the training wheels off and see what Wood can do. At his current rate, the only thing that will keep him out of the All-Star Game this year is manager's insistence on rewarding pitchers with good win-loss records. But I would love to call Wood an All-Star snub. That means he's doing his job with excellence yet again.

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