It is certainly too early to make any definitive conclusions about Alex Wood, but his early career has been intriguing. After being drafted in the 2nd round out of the University of Georgia, Wood crushed the minors.
He started out for the Braves as a long reliever and spot starter in 2013. By 2014 he was in the starting rotation, returning to the bullpen only to keep his annual innings pitched number low, to minimize long-term damage. That doesn’t appear to be a concern any longer, as he threw 139 2/3 innings between all levels in 2013, and 180 in 2014.
How well has he done? Well, here are all the pitchers in the majors since 2010 who have had a WAR of at least 3.7 for a season in which they were 23 or younger:
- Alex Wood (2014)
- Chris Sale (2012)
- Clayton Kershaw (2010)
- Clayton Kershaw (2011)
- Jarrod Parker (2012)
- Jhoulys Chacin (2011)
- Jose Fernandez (2013)
- Julio Teheran (2014)
- Madison Bumgarner (2013)
- Trevor Cahill (2010)
How did they do the following year? They averaged a 3.8875 WAR, with the lowest being Jose Fernandez’s injury shortened 2013 season, which still resulted in 1.1 WAR.
If you browse around the pitch f/x data on BrooksBaseball.net, you may seem some evidence for my conclusions:
- Alex can crank his sinking fastball up to 95-96 mph when he needs to, but averages around 91 mph when starting.
- He only has three pitches, and his change-up has gone from average to slightly above average.
- His curveball has changed, in the last few years, from a “I rarely throw it”, “I need a third pitch”, “It will shock them into not swinging pitch” into a devastating strikeout pitch that he throws more often than his change-up.
There’s a lot of great charts we could examine, but here are two illustrative examples from the site:
As you can see, the curveball went from the number three pitch to the number two pitch, and has been his best pitch for getting swings and misses from the batter. The change-up remains a “fool them into not swinging” pitch when they expect the fastball.
Who knows where he’ll end up, but with a 4th-pitch and more experience, the sky is the limit. Considering his effectiveness isn’t based on overwhelming velocity, his career could be long and productive.