Oakland Athletics starter Alex Wood is collapsing

Athletics' left-hander Alex Wood is off to a rough start in 2024. What's gone wrong, and can he turn it around?
Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Guardians
Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Guardians / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The Oakland A's signed free agent starter Alex Wood this offseason to shore up an inconsistent rotation and improve upon a group of guys who have had limited success in the majors. They paid $8.5 million for his services and thus far, the organization is not getting the return they'd hoped for.

Wood has made 5 starts for the A's, none of them good. His 7.89 ERA trails only Patrick Corbin among qualified starters, and he's yet to throw a pitch beyond the 5th inning. His FIP is a slightly more palatable 5.40 but his 10.2% walk rate would be the highest mark of his career and his 18.5% strikeout rate isn't far off his career-worst mark of 17.2% set last season.

So what's going wrong for Alex Wood?

Digging into the Statcast data, you can see some discouraging trends. His velocity is down a tick across the board. He's down between 1-2 mph on all three of his pitches compared to where he was between 2021-2023. The last time he was throwing at this low a velocity was back in 2019, when he was dealing with a significant back injury that limited him to just 35.2 innings all year.

The problem here is that his pitches will break differently when thrown at different speeds. The way he's pitching right now, it doesn't seem like he has control over any of the pitches in his arsenal. He's consistently missing down and off the plate with the slider, the sinker is getting left middle-middle too often, and he's hanging the changeup over the lower middle of the plate, leaving it open for batters to take advantage, and they've certainly done so.

Over the past three years, batters have averaged a .318 wOBA against Wood's changeup. [wOBA is essentially a weighted version of OBP, where the formula factors in how batters get on base, rather than just whether they've done so]. So far in 2024, they're getting him for a mark of .621, and have an .880 SLG on the pitch.

The drop in velocity and the lack of control have resulted in Wood being one of the worst starters in baseball so far. His .453 wOBA allowed is in the bottom third percentile league-wide, his 20.4% chase rate puts him in the bottom sixth percentile, and his 6.55 expected-ERA is bottom tenth percentile.

Can Alex Wood turn his season around?

This is the tricky part. The lefty has spent considerable time on the IL throughout his career. He's just 33 so it's probably 50/50 whether the drop in velocity is due to his body breaking down or a conscious choice to change up his plan of attack.

Assuming Wood is healthy, he needs to find a way to command his pitches. His heat maps are all over the place and you can bet that if Wood doesn't know where these pitches are going, he's not going to be effective.

It's possible that the path to success involves moving Wood to a bullpen role and letting his velocity play up in shorter stints on the mound. They could also try to piggyback him with either Mitch Spence or Kyle Muller in order to get 3-4 strong innings out of him without worrying about the expectation that he has to save something for the third time through the order.

From what we've seen so far, Wood just doesn't have it at the moment. That doesn't mean he won't be able to get back on track as we get further into the season. But there is the lingering thought that if the A's continue to try to rely on him for a full starter's workload, they won't get the results they desire.

Mark Kotsay isn't perfect, but he's been given a raw deal with this roster. Getting Alex Wood to buy into a reduced role in order to try to improve his results is probably a tough ask, but it seems like a fair place to start.