Alex Wood will be eligible for free agency in the year 2020. It is important to state that, because this is a very talented player that the Braves will have control of for another six seasons. Maximizing his value over that span is certainly the goal, as is taking care of his arm.
After throwing just under 140 innings last season, it is reasonable to expect an innings cap. He already has had Tommy John surgery and as most are so frequent to point out, he has quite an odd delivery. Even without those two factors, keeping him to around 170 or so innings is probably a wise decision this season. With the Braves lacking Jonny Venters' services until midseason and Brandon Beachy supposedly back and totally healthy, there is certainly an argument for utilizing most of Wood's innings later in the season and starting him off in the bullpen.
I think Wood is the most talented starting pitcher on the roster. His combination of great stuff, impressive command, and great batted ball rates (GB% and HR/FB) along with a sturdy and sizable frame make me extremely confident in his long term production. Despite that opinion, I think I would rather see Wood in the bullpen to start the year.
With the current roster set up, utilizing Wood as a late inning set up man and then transitioning him over to starter during the middle of the year ala Kris Medlen could in a number of ways.
- As mentioned his innings are kept down
- His performance in the bullpen was stellar last season, with a 2.09 ERA and 1.62 FIP. Adding a dominant arm to the back end of the bullpen for a few months would be beneficial while the team waits to see what they have in a recovering-from-surgery Jonny Venters.
- Wood would be usable during the postseason. If he ends up performing how I expect him to, the Braves will want to have him ready to go during the playoffs. If he starts all year and blows past his innings constriction early, he wouldn't be available to start.
To start the year, going with the main three starters along with Brandon Beachy and Freddy Garcia seems like a wise decision to me. Garcia is hardly what he used to be, but as a fifth starter he should be able to eat enough innings and keep the team in ball games.
It is reasonable to say that the proposed alignment would make the team worse at the start of the year than they optimally could be, as in Wood being utilized as a starter and a different lefty being used behind Avilan. But I do believe that this makes the team stronger during the tail end of the season and into the playoffs. It could also have benefits going into next season as Wood would have planted his foot into the rotation by midseason and focused on only being a starter on a continuing timeline rather than jumping back to being a reliever at the end of the year then back to starting at the beginning of next.
If Wood wows during spring training, the Braves may be enticed to keep him in the rotation and let things figure themselves out as the season goes on as it so often does. If I were them, I wouldn't let temptation get the best of me, and I'd start Wood out in the bullpen.