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May 6, 2010


Brandon Wood can't figure it out

by Marc Normandin

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It seems forever ago that Brandon Wood was one of the top prospects in the game (remember when he hit 43 homers at Class A in 2005?), but his star and the optimism surrounding him have faded with each successive stint in the big leagues. Now out of minor league options, this is his last chance to stick with the Angels.

While in the minors, Wood looked like a powerful Three True Outcomes player (home runs, walks and strikeouts making up the majority of his plate appearances). But in the majors he has devolved into something more like a 1.5 True Outcomes player, with plenty of strikeouts, very few walks, and a handful of homers. The problem seems to be that he doesn't make adjustments.

Wood was able to draw walks at Triple-A and showed plenty of power there (22 homers in 428 plate appearances in 2009), but once he gets to the bigs, his approach at the plate has failed him. Major league pitchers have had him figured out since he debuted in 2007, and Wood has not adjusted one bit. They attack him with first-pitch strikes to put him behind in the count (64.3, 65.2 and 69.1 percent first-pitch strikes the last three seasons, with the league average sticking around 58 percent). He's forced to swing at pitches out of the zone, something pitchers gladly give him plenty of opportunities to do—for his career, he's swung at 38 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, including nearly 42 percent this season. That would put him among the top 10 in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

John Lackey and Daniel Bard of the Red Sox mostly had their way with him Wednesday night using this same strategy. Wood came up to bat three times, saw a first pitch strike in all three at-bats (he swung at one, a slider from Lackey, and fouled it off). Lackey worked him inside, outside and high, getting Wood to miss badly on a few pitches he couldn't do anything with high and in or just by elevating his fastball. Bard made him miss high and then chase low and away with a slider, putting him away in three pitches.

Wood did hit a home run, but it was on a mistake pitch from Lackey. On a 1-2 count, Lackey left a fastball inside where Wood could turn on it instead of getting him to chase, which, if you have seen any of the past four seasons, is the way to send Wood packing. He's still a dangerous hitter on pitches like that, but as Bard showed later (and Lackey himself showed earlier) you can avoid that problem more often than not by throwing outside the zone once Wood is behind in the count.

At this stage for Wood, the hope is that he can turn into a Gary Gaetti-type hitter—he won't pick up many hits, and he won't walk much, but there's plenty of power there. But considering he's hitting .185/.205/.272 in 84 PAs, time is running out for Wood, who's now 25, to prove himself.

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