Just over a week ago, Mike Gianella released his updated In-Season Fantasy Valuations. There weren’t a ton of surprises in terms of who was providing the most fantasy value. However, on his National League starting pitcher list there was a name that stood out. Situated in eighth, behind fantasy stalwarts like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, was Alex Wood.
Wood has been one of the most productive starters in the league for fantasy purposes. He sits just outside the top-10 by ESPN’s Player Rater at his position. What has made Wood such a valuable fantasy commodity this year? Maybe the more important question is, “Can he keep this up?”
One glance at Wood’s numbers reveals why he’s been so valuable. His seven wins are tied with a long list of players for the fourth most in the league. Among pitchers with 60 innings pitched, Wood has the second-best ERA in baseball (1.90) trailing only Dallas Keuchel. His 0.92 WHIP is the third-best mark among that group, and he’s in the top-10 by strikeouts per nine. Wood’s numbers this season have him rubbing shoulders with the best pitchers in the game.
Are there any obvious reasons for this spike in production? There are a few metrics that stand out. He’s striking out a career high 10.51 batters per nine, and he’s dropped his walk rate to a career low 2.19 per nine. Throughout his career, Wood has never given up many home runs, but he’s dropped his HR/FB rate to just 6.9 percent this season.
Part of what’s driving Wood’s success is the fact that he’s raised his ground-ball rate to a career best 66.9 percent. He’s always induced a lot of ground balls due to his reliance on a sinker. He’s increased that number by throwing his changeup more. Not only is Wood getting more ground balls, but he’s getting batters to swing and miss at more pitches. His swing rate outsize of the zone (36.4 percent) is the highest it’s ever been, and that’s helped push his swinging-strike rate to a career-high 12 percent.
With all of this success, are there any reasons Wood owners should be concerned about his value for the rest of the season? The first red flag would be his track record. Wood has generally been a solid starting pitcher in his young career, but he’s never been this good. His track record suggests that his second half won’t be this productive. To be fair, Wood’s 2.44 DRA does highlight that this hasn’t all been smoke and mirrors. Clearly, he’s having a career year, and there are reasons to believe he’s taken legitimate steps forward.
Still, there has been a certain amount of luck that has factored into Wood’s results. His .268 BABIP is well below his career mark of .307. Also, Wood is stranding 79 percent of base runners. That number should come down, but over the course of his career his strand rate has been 75 percent. There might not be as much of a drop coming to that rate as one might expect.
The biggest concern with Wood is his recent injury history. In 2016, he was shut down following a start May 30. Wood underwent surgery on his elbow, and he didn’t appear in a Dodgers uniform until Sept. 21. This season, he had a brief stint on the DL due to “inflammation in his left SC joint.” Joe Harris of MLB.com notes that Wood experienced this same injury in 2015 and in spring training this season.
Wood has shown the ability to be a very good major league starting pitcher during his brief career. At just 26 years old, it’s likely that his most productive days are still ahead. As for this season, he’s in a great situation to continue providing fantasy value. The Dodgers should give him plenty of opportunities to accumulate wins, and his strikeout rates suggest he’ll end the season as a solid contributor in that category. Add to that: a solid ERA and WHIP, and you have a pitcher providing quality production in four categories. Even if Wood’s numbers regress some, he’s still going to be no worse than an above-average option. The biggest fear for Wood owners isn’t results, it’s his ability to stay on the mound. If he can, his name will be much higher on draft boards next season.
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