The Angels’ Next Reclamation Project

Despite a hard fastball and sharp slider, Blake Wood has never found much success in MLB. A lack of command has held Wood back, with a career BB/9 of 4.36 hampering his above-average ability to miss bats (career 8.59 k/9) and induce ground balls (career 52.3 GB%). Accumulating just 0.9 WAR in 280.2 innings – for a player quickly approaching his 33rd birthday – many would assume Wood is just another middle relief option, one of the first to be demoted should the Angels need a fresh arm. Similar things could have been said about any of Yusmeiro Petit, Blake Parker, David Hernandez, or Bud Norris last year, however. Parker was never effective in the majors, jumping from organization to organization, and the other three pitchers saw their effectiveness dwindle over the last few years. All greatly exceeded expectations in 2017, as only Norris (0.6 and 19 saves) finished under 1 WAR last year, leading to a shockingly effective and deep Angels pen. With only Parker returning this year, the Angels need to scramble for similar production out of the back of their bullpen in 2018.

Enter Blake Wood. Wood come into 2018 without huge expectations, behind the likes of Cam Bedrosian, Parker, and Keynan Middleton in the Angels bullpen pecking order. Behind a rash of homers, Wood’s 2017 campaign was shadowed by some bad luck, with his 3.67/3.54/3.62 FIP/xFIP/SIERA greatly outpacing his 5.45 ERA. The homers should go down with better luck (a 15.1% HR/FB rate is hard to sustain for even the worst of pitchers) and a move away from hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. More important, a few adjustments manifested towards the end of 2016, continuing through 2017, that helped Wood improve his BB% and K% pretty significantly.

Mostly a two-pitch pitcher for his career, possessing a hard, sinking fastball and a sharp slider, Wood began to work in his change/splitter more last season. This increase came at the expense of his fastball, a pitch that generally hasn’t been effective. Thrown nearly 80% of the time early in his career, the Reds helped Wood get his fastball usage down to around 50% over the last two years. In addition, Wood took some velocity off of both his fastball and splitter in 2017, greatly improving his first-pitch strike percentage (F-Strike%), a stat highly correlated with walks (Wood finished the year with a 57.8 F-Strike%, still slightly below-average). This new approach helps Wood get ahead of more hitters, allowing him to focus on the area he excels: getting hitters to swing at pitches (especially his slider) Setting career marks in both, he finished the year with an 11.2 SwStr% and 30.1 O-Swing% last year, both well above league-average.

FB% (Avr. Velocity)

SL% (Avr. Velocity)

CH/SPL% (Avr. Velocity)

2013 (CLE)

92.7 (97.2)

4.9 (89.0)

2.4 (89)

2014 (CLE)

81.4 (95.6)

12.7 (90.1)

5.9 (84.4)

2016 (CIN)

55.2 (96)

36.4 (89.9)

8.3 (86.6)

2017(CIN/LAA)

55.5 (96.1)

34.1 (89.7)

10.4 (84.9)

*Wood did not appear in a major league game in 2015

In addition to changing his pitch usage, Wood began increasing his vertical release point in late 2016. This trend continued last year for all of his pitches, leading to the most consistent release point in his career. After jumping around release points – ranging from just under 6 feet to just upwards of 6.5 feet – Wood settled around an average of 6.7 ft. in 2017. Coming more over-the-top and staying more consistent helps to explain some of the improvement in walk and Zone% for Wood, though he still didn’t have good control in last year. Wood doesn’t need great control to succeed, though. If he can knock a walk per nine innings off of his career average, his penchant for inducing grounders and whiffs will allow him to take to high leverage innings for the Angels.

In Wood, the Angels have picked up another cheap relief pitcher whose skills have been shadowed by bad luck. If they can continue to improve his pitch selection and keep his release point consistent, Wood might prove to be another reliable middle-relief or setup option picked up off the scrap heap. There’s always a chance last year’s improvements begin to erode as the season goes on, but don’t be surprised if, in June, the Angels are calling upon Wood to effectively bridge the gap between the rotation and former reclamation project Parker.