Alex Wood pitching against the Chicago Cubs

Since late April, Alex Wood has been the best

The 2017 season did not start out great for Alex Wood. He bounced around from the bullpen to rotation to bullpen then back to rotation with mixed results in between. After his up and down start to the season, something finally clicked for him in his 4/26 start against the San Francisco Giants, however.

Wood pitched six brilliant innings with five strikeouts, one walk and only one hit allowed. He did not get the win that day, but this set up the way his season has gone since, winning his next five starts. Were it not for Josh Fields allowing a home run in relief, he would have won his sixth straight start in last night’s start as well.

Last week I wrote about Wood, among others, having an unexpectedly impressive month of May. During the month, Wood did not allow a run in his last four starts. After a short stint on the 10-day disabled list, he returned last night and extended his scoreless innings streak all the way up to 28 innings before finally giving up a run in the top of the third inning on a ground ball single by Jose Peraza.

This scoreless innings streak was just part of the run he’s been on since last April. Going back to that 4/26 start against the Giants, Alex Wood may very well be the best pitcher in baseball.

Since then, he has led the MLB for starting pitchers in ERA (1.57), FIP (1.26), xFIP (1.83) and HR/9 (0.00), tied for second in WHIP (0.90), and third in K-BB% (29.0%) in 40 innings pitched. Even comparing to the best overall pitcher in 2017 Chris Sale in that time frame, from 4/26 till now, Sale only bests him in K-BB%, and has him beat by just 0.3%.

Right now Wood is putting up numbers that you would expect out of Clayton Kershaw, not someone who started 2017 in the bullpen. Of course, for anyone paying attention, Wood was only in the bullpen out of necessity because the Los Angeles Dodgers had at least seven legitimate healthy starting pitchers available at the time. Since then the Dodgers have used the 10-day DL many times, needing Wood to step in by mid-April, but he has done so incredibly well that he has a stranglehold on one of the five rotation spots that he will not give up any time soon.

In fact, just about the only thing that Alex Wood isn’t doing well is throwing deep into games. Only once all season has Wood pitched beyond six innings. This is an area where many other starting pitchers in baseball are besting him.

However, in an age where bullpens are more prominent than ever, it makes sense to get the best value out of your starter. Managers should not be pushing starters too far, allowing them to give up a big inning when they should no longer be in the game. The way that Wood has been managed is to get a good five or six innings, then let the bullpen finish the job for him. It has worked to perfection, so far.

Taking a look at the Dodgers overall rotation in 2017, they are both tied for first in ERA at 3.48 with the St Louis Cardinals in first by themselves in FIP at 3.61. As always, Clayton Kershaw is helping to lead the way with his 2.20 ERA, 3.04 FIP, and 2.3 fWAR, but Alex Wood is right there with him sporting a 2.01 ERA, 1.84 FIP, and 2.2 fWAR. Alex Wood has been almost as valuable as Kershaw, and he’s done it in 40 fewer innings.

Going forward, it is more likely that Kershaw starts to pull away from him, simply for the fact that he is Clayton Kershaw — the best pitcher of this generation. But for the time being, and from what we have seen, we can talk about Wood in the same breath as Kershaw (or Sale) and be completely justified in doing so.

For the last month and a half, Alex Wood has been the best pitcher in baseball. Not Chris Sale. Not Clayton Kershaw. Not Max Scherzer. History tells us that, going forward, this probably will not remain the case, but he sure has been marvelous to watch in that time.

 

Bobby Down, Baseline Times MLB Contributor

Article picture source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America