Cincinnati Reds: What will Alex Wood bring in debut?

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 15: Alex Wood #57 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 15: Alex Wood #57 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Alex Wood made his fourth rehab start last night. The Cincinnati Reds are eagerly awaiting his 2019 debut. What should we expect when Wood returns?

What if you, as the Cincinnati Reds, were presented with a hypothetical choice between two Major League starting pitchers, but were only presented with statistics from the beginning of the 2017 season until now, and were not given the names of the players who generated those numbers. Let’s say it looked something similar to this:

  • Pitcher 1: 3.20 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 1.13 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9
  • Pitcher 2: 3.68 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.33 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9

Almost every fan would pick Pitcher 1 in this scenario, as said pitcher beats out Pitcher 2 in every statistical category mentioned above. You want to know who those pitchers were, right?

Well, Pitcher 2 is none other than 2019 All-Star Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays. Stroman is arguably the best pitcher available on the trade market over the next two weeks, and is set to bring back a quality return to Toronto for his services.

Pitcher 1 meanwhile is Cincinnati Reds starter Alex Wood. Now, this comparison comes with an obvious caveat, that being that Alex Wood has yet to pitch an inning in the Majors in 2019.

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However, assuming the 28-year old Wood can put the back issues that have plagued him during the 2019 season to rest, the Reds may just be getting another top of the rotation arm to put next to Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray for the next two months, and possibly beyond.

Wood came up in the Braves’ organization, making his Major League Debut at the age of 22 in 2013. The left-hander was strong in 77.1 innings during his rookie campaign, pitching to a 3.13 ERA and 2.65 FIP in a combination of relief and starting appearances. Wood followed his 2013 start with a 2014 breakout, finishing 10th in the NL in ERA.

In the middle of another above-average 2015 season, Wood was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he helped lead the team to three consecutive NLCS appearances, and two World Series appearances, from 2016-18.

Wood finished his Dodgers career with a 3.46 ERA during his time in Los Angeles, before a December 2018 trade sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, along with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer.

Wood is a true three-pitch starting pitcher on the mound, using a sinker, curveball and changeup to retire hitters consistently. According to Baseball Savant, Wood relies the most on his sinking fastball, which he threw 43% of the time during the 2018 season.

The curveball was Wood’s second favorite pitch in his arsenal, which he threw 30.7% of the time, mostly down and inside on right-handers, and down and away on lefties. Down in the zone is always appealing when pitching in the Queen City.

With a three-pitch repertoire like that one, it is no wonder why Wood is able to generate so many ground balls. For his career, Wood has 1.01 groundballs for every fly ball that he has allowed, which is well above the MLB average of 0.82 in that span. In Wood, the Reds are clearly getting a pitcher who has the potential to be very successful pitching at the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

There is, of course, a large elephant in the room, which is that Wood has just two months left on his contract before he hits free agency at the end of the season. Should Wood come back and continue to pitch at the All-Star caliber level in which he has pitched at over the previous two seasons, the Reds would have a decision on their hands of whether or not to try to sign Wood to an extension to keep him in a Reds uniform for the 2020 season and beyond.

Even if Wood and his agent command a hefty asking price in free agency, as they should if Wood can prove his health and consistency, the Reds should still be in a position to offer him the money that he is seeking, considering the amount of money that is coming off the books this winter, as well as ownership’s desire to keep the 2020 payroll in line with the 2019 payroll, around $131 million.

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Of the four players that the Reds acquired from the Dodgers in December, Wood has been the easiest to forget about, in part because of how good the Reds’ rotation has been in 2019. With Wood currently on a rehab assignment, and inching closer to a return to the Major Leagues, there is still enough time in the season for Wood to prove to the front office, and to fans that he could be a significant piece of the Reds future.