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Alex Wood: Braves Most Valuable (Starting) Pitcher?

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Looking at Atlanta Braves 24-year-old starting pitcher Alex Wood for the 2015 fantasy baseball season.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

I was going to write about Marcus Stroman today, but then this happened. Baseball is so cruel some times. Instead of a player profile on Stroman, I decided to write about another personal favorite of mine: Atlanta's Alex Wood. The Braves blew up their team this offseason under John Hart, trading two of their best players in Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, along with power-hitting catcher/sometimes outfielder Evan Gattis. The Braves might not have much left on the offensive side of the ball, but their pitching remains very strong, especially with the addition of Shelby Miller and lock-down closer Craig Kimbrel.

Julio Teheran headlines Atlanta's staff and was the No. 13 starting pitcher, according to the ESPN Player Rater, in 2014. Most people might forget that the Braves actually had two top-30 starting pitchers, however, with the second being Wood. In his first extended season as a starter (with bullpen time here and there), the 24-year-old lefty went 11-11 with a 2.78 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.25 FIP and 3.19 xFIP across 24 starts and 35 games total. He struck out 8.91 batters per nine innings while walking 2.36 and gave up 16 home runs in 171 2/3 innings.

Wood's numbers as a starter were even better, as he compiled a sparkling 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 3.23 FIP and 3.23 xFIP with 8.69 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9 in 156 1/3 innings. As a starter, opposing batters hit just .228/.286/.347 against Wood with a .284 wOBA and only 37 extra-base hits (14 home runs, 22 doubles, one triple).

Steamer expects Woods to gain almost a full run on his ERA, projecting a 10-11 record, 3.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.58 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9, while ZiPS is a little more optimistic with an 11-8 record, 3.21 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.38 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9. It's worth noting that Wood only had eight wins in his 24 starts last season, and, with the Braves expected to be much worse this season, wins again might be hard to come by.

Looking at Wood's plate discipline numbers, we can see that his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches batters swing at outside the strike zone) rose dramatically from 23.7 percent in 2013 to 30.9 percent in 2014, while his contact numbers remained very consistent. That first number can be partly attributed to Wood by using the breaking ball more often (14.1 percent usage in 2014, 20.1 percent usage in 2015), according to BrooksBaseball.net.

The key for me in 2015 will be whether Wood's violent pitching movement (that's often been compared to Chris Sale) won't lead to injury at one point or another. He did undergo Tommy John surgery once already in 2009 that kept him out of 2010, and he was forced to miss his last start of last season with a mild forearm strain. But, other than that, Wood has increased his innings total from 2011 to 2014. So worrying about his future health is more of an eye-test thing.

I believe Wood, who the Fake Teams staff ranked as the No. 31 starting pitcher in the consensus rankings, will repeat a top-30 season and has the chance to sneak inside the top 20 overall. I ranked Wood as my No. 23 starter, just ahead of Alex Cobb and Hyun-jin Ryu, and think he can post a sub 3.35 ERA and post 180 strikeouts in 2015. I still like Teheran to finish ahead of Wood in the final 2015 ranks, but I'd much rather take the latter with his current 103.55 ADP than possibly overreaching on Teheran. He'll be a solid No. 2 starter in any 12-team format and you shouldn't hesitate taking him after picking your ace. There's a good chance you can land Wood in the ninth or 10th round.

Stats from FanGraphs.com and BrooksBaseball.net