Alex Wood Poised to Be NL Version of Chris Sale by Brian Baker December 31, 2014 As the Braves enter the 2015 season, the roster is expected to be extremely pitching-heavy. In John Hart’s first offseason as the Braves’ President of Baseball Operations, he has made two huge moves by sending outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward to the Padres and the Cardinals, respectively. While the return in the Upton trade was primarily made up of lower level prospects at least a few years away from helping the big club, the Braves did land RHP Shelby Miller in the Heyward/Cardinals trade. Although the Braves lost two key pieces to the offense, the pitching staff could be very strong, especially if Miller can bounce back to 2013 form (3.06 ERA, 3.67 FIP). Miller will join a rotation that returns three starters in Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, and Alex Wood. Minor enters the 2015 season in a very similar situation to Miller’s. After a breakout year in 2013 (3.21 ERA, 3.5 WAR), Minor was worth just 0.2 wins in 25 starts in 2014. While Teheran is considered to be the budding star ($32M contract extension and a 3.2 WAR for his age 23 season), Wood could be the pitcher that steals the show. Following a three-year stint at the University of Georgia (one of which shortened by Tommy John surgery), the Braves drafted Wood in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. Wood would go on to make his MLB debut less than one year later, after starting just 23 minor league games. Wood would appear in 16 games as a reliever, before transitioning into a starting role in the second half of the 2013 season. Wood’s final numbers for his age-22 season looked very similar to those numbers of another funky-delivering 22-year-old southpaw, Chris Sale: Pitcher Inn K/9 BB/9 GB% FIP Sale 71 10.01 3.42 49.7% 3.12 Wood 77.2 8.92 3.13 49.1% 2.65 Unlike Wood, Sale spent the entire 2011 season working out of the bullpen, and had even pitched in 23 innings in the 2010 season, joining Chicago’s bullpen less than two months after signing with the White Sox. Following Sale’s strong 2011 season, the White Sox decided it was time to move Sale to the rotation. The Braves had similar plans for Wood in 2014, although the club planned to limit his innings in his first full year with Atlanta, and Wood would only make 24 starts for the season, along with 11 more relief appearances. For the age-23 seasons, the numbers look very similar, yet again: Pitcher Inn K/9 BB/9 GB% FIP Sale 192 9.0 2.39 44.9% 3.27 Wood 171.2 8.91 2.36 45.9% 3.25 Another key factor for both pitchers is the durability later in the season. While many young pitchers wear down later in the year, both pitchers got stronger as the year went on. Sale’s strikeout numbers increased (9.41 to 10.64), and his walks and FIP saw a significant decrease as well. The same would hold true for Wood, as his K/9 rate went from a first half 8.61 to a second half 9.21, with a decrease in walks and a 3.05 second half FIP. The midseason move to the pen (to help limit innings) could have given Wood a fresher arm for his full-time return to the rotation in the second half, but whatever the reason may be, he was one of the top NL starters down the stretch. As for Sale, his improving performance went well beyond the second half of the 2012 season, as the lefty would go on to post back-to-back 5+ WARs over the next two seasons, as well as finishing in the top 5 for the AL Cy Young Award in both 2013 and 2014. The key for Sale was his ability to continue to improve his strikeout numbers, while also cutting down on his walks. Sale’s 1.97 BB/9 over the last two years has been good for 7th among all American League starters. During that same time frame, Sale’s 10.06 K/9 rate trailed only Yu Darvish and Max Scherzer. Only 14 pitchers were able to top Wood’s 3.25 FIP as well as his his 3.78 K/BB in 2014. If he can push the FIP closer to 3.00, as well as the K/BB over 4.00, we could be looking at another Chris Sale.