September 05, 2013

A Case for Wood as Fourth Playoff Starter

Experience is vital in the playoffs, and it’s doubly important for starting pitchers. When a single run can make the difference between advancing to the next round and ending the season in disappointment, you don’t want your starter to feel overwhelmed by pressure. One wild pitch, one hanging curve, or one fastball with too much of the plate can spell disaster. Experience can help keep players calm in big situations, but does that make it the most important factor in deciding who to start?

The Braves rotation is a wealth of young talent. Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Julio Teheran have proved themselves to be the top three starters heading into the post-season. That leaves Paul Maholm and Alex Wood vying for the fourth starter spot. With Tim Hudson out for the year, Maholm is the veteran of the staff. He’s got close to a decade of experience in the bigs. The rookie Wood, on the other hand, has only twenty-four major-league games under his belt, only nine starts. Both pitchers have even win-loss ratios (10-10 for Maholm, 3-3 for Wood). Maholm’s ERA is about thirty percent higher, and he’s pitched more than twice as many innings as Wood. He’s a bit worn down and banged up, as indicated by his performance as of late. Since July 1st he’s earned only one win, and even then he gave up three walks and three runs to the Mets in five innings. At this point in the season he is little more than a shadow of the strong starter he was in April and May.

Wood, on the other hand, has been consistently effective since being given a spot in the rotation. His most recent start, an ugly 7-run outing against Miami, was his worst of the season. Set that aside and he’s been far better than league-average, which is more than I can say for most rookies, and more than I can say for Maholm. In his limited starts this year, Wood has seen a good share of tight situations. Look at his start against Cleveland: a runner reached second base in each of the first five innings, yet he came out unscathed and threw 5 2/3 scoreless. To me, that shows composure and grit.

It’s not clear yet who the Braves will go with as the fourth playoff starter, and it’s next to impossible for them to survive on their top three arms. If Fredi plays it by the book as he is known to do, I think we’ll see Maholm take the mound because he’s the more experienced player.

One more thing to keep in mind. For all the years between them, Maholm and Wood have an equal amount of in-game playoff experience. None. Neither player has pitched in the post-season. In that sense, at least, they are on level ground.



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