Alex Wood (SP, LAD)
It’s been a (perhaps predictably) turbulent start to the season for the Dodgers rotation. Oft-injured players like Hyun-jin Ryu, Rich Hill, and Brandon McCarthy have all found the disabled list already, which opened the door right away for Alex Wood to shift from a bullpen role to the starting rotation. He’s been stellar so far, and over his last two starts he’s tossed 11 shutout innings with 21 strikeouts. His strikeout rate has fluctuated throughout his career, but this year he’s putting up what is easily a career-high of 12.11 K/9. So what’s he done differently, and is it sustainable?
His velocity on the year is up, but that’s due in part to his bullpen appearances in which he threw harder, and also in part to the league-wide change in velocity readings (which are showing up higher on average by about 0.7 MPH). One change he’s definitely made this year is in the deployment of his changeup, which is up 10% from a year ago to a career-high rate of 28%. It’s a pitch that generates 67% ground balls, so between that and his sinker it’s no surprise that he’s got a career-high 63% ground ball rate. He’s still maintaining his typically solid control and keeping the ball in the yard as well, so even if his .282 BABIP rises closer to the league average of .300, you’re not looking at an impending implosion. It’s hard to see this elite strikeout rate continuing, and he has been known to miss time with injury himself (fitting right in with the Dodgers rotation), but he should be universally owned and started moving forward.
Ian Kinsler (2B, Det)
It hasn’t been quite the start to the season that Kinsler owners were hoping for, although it’s not the end of the world just yet with a slash line of .240/.345/.368 over his first 145 plate appearances. He’s stolen a base and hit three homers, so even though the average is low, he’s still giving you something. Coming off of 28 home runs and 117 runs scored in 2016, hopes have been high for Kinsler despite his impending 35th birthday. His .196 ISO from a year ago seems pretty far out of reach at this point as he sits at .128, so can he rebound from this slow start and get back to his career norms in average and power?
First, we can address the power. His hard contact rate is actually up quite a bit from last year, from 34% to 42% this season. He’s also putting more balls in the air, upping his fly ball rate nearly 3% to 47%. The issue is a complete lack of pull power. He’s got a career 46% pull rate, yet for some reason this year he’s completely dropped the pull-heavy approach for a balanced batted ball distribution. His pull percentage is just 30% this year, which has led at least in part to a HR/FB rate that has been cut in half from last year’s 13% mark. So if he’s spraying the ball to all fields and hitting the ball harder than ever, why is his average down so low? Well, the BABIP gods have smitten him with a .262 mark so far, and we know that after a look into his batted ball distribution that his BABIP is down for a reason. When you’re launching nearly 50% balls in the air but many of them are going to center or the opposite field, you go from extra base hits to lazy fly balls. We’ll see if his approach returns to normal over the course of the season, but at this point it’s hard to see him hitting for more than mid-teens home runs with a .260-ish average. On the bright side, he’s walking just as much as he’s striking out, so his grasp on the strike zone is just as good as ever. He’ll still get on base and score plenty of runs, but for those who were salivating over the potential of another 25+ home run season, invest now in a handkerchief to dry your eyes.