Alex Wood is being improperly brought along. Period. Wood is a starter drafted last year out of the University of Georgia, and impressed the front office this year. In Mississippi, he made 10 starts for a total of 52.2 innings, in which he accumulated a 1.26 ERA and 57 strikeouts, allowed 41 hits, 15 walks, and 1 home run, with an opposing .195 average and .251 on base percentage and a 2.27 FIP.
Those are amazing statistics for Double-A, no doubt. And Atlanta needed relief help. However, there was an unlimited amount of options for them to fill their need--Triple-A, Free Agency, and the most likely to come in the future, trading. There are relievers at Gwinnett that were deserving at the time of Wood's promotion, including David Hale, Ryan Buchter, Juan Cedeno, Wirfin Obispo, and even Omar Poveda. And while promoting one of those relievers may have been risky, what was very risky was promoting a bonafide prospect that was a successful starter into the major league bullpen while at the same time skipping Triple-A. Alex Wood, in my opinion, was deserving of a promotion to Triple-A at the time (demote or release Daniel Rodriguez), but the front office was purely overwhelmed by his success at Double-A, to the point they rushed him straight to the major leagues.
Has it been worth it for the Braves? Statistically speaking, yes. Very yes. In 18.1 innings, Wood has a 2.95 ERA, a 1.70 FIP, 0.4 fWAR, a K/BB of 3.28, and an opposing average of .217 and opposing OBP of .289. And even then, BABIP says he's gotten a little unlucky, as it sits at .326. Wood has been very awesome through 18.1 career innings. As a mop-up man. Is it likely that the Braves would get this kind of effectiveness from any other minor league reliever, even ones who put up numbers like his? Not likely (see: Cory Rasmus). Has it been worth it from a long-term standpoint? Possibly.
When Wood was drafted, many thought he would project to be a relief arm in the bullpen, while others said he would stick in the rotation. Even through this year. The opinion that he should become a reliever has been strengthened by his numbers, listed above. However, we have to think of what would happen if he's a reliever compared to starting. If he's a reliever, he likely takes the spot of Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, as a reliable left-handed setup man (assuming he can stay in the vicinity of the statistics above). Through the very small sample size of 18 innings, the conclusion cannot be drawn that he would live up to the reputation of Jonny Venters or Eric O'Flaherty. Should Alex stay in the pen for the rest of the year (gasp), he would likely pitch a total of around 40-45 innings (Steamer projects him to appear in 41 games and pitch 52 innings this year). Over the course of 40-50 innings out of the pen, you may be able to draw a conclusion about his true performance as a reliever. However, you have to keep in mind that all this has been in janitorial duty, cleaning up in very low leverage situations. As Franklin pointed out in the latest podcast, Wood has been useful in the least useful way. If Wood truly projects as a reliever, I have hope it would be as a setup man in the form of Jonny Venters (without the Tommy John). Enough waxing, though. This post is to attempt to make two points: Either use Alex Wood in higher leverage situations (i.e., Venters), or send him back down.
We are hampering the development of a pitcher who's a natural starter, by not only changing his rate of work, but making his work the most boring and least productive as possible. Keep in mind, I am neutral to the argument of "starter or reliever?". The custodian work should go strictly to David Carpenter, Anthony Varvaro (sometimes), or some other reliever (Omar Poveda, imo). This truly is NOT a promotion for Alex Wood. He's being put in the worst of situations, the most drastic of a change, and a change for the worst to boot. We are unsure of what may happen to the rotation in the off-season--Paul Maholm enters free agency, and Hudson's contract is up. While the same holds true to the bullpen in theory, we know that Frank Wren is the best in the business at building bullpens from nothing, and we, as a fan base, shouldn't have any doubt that he will continue that trend through next year. This trend doesn't hold true for the rotation for the upcoming offseason. We don't have much in terms of starting pitching currently in the upper minor leagues other than J.R. Graham, who isn't likely to win a spot over a guy with as much experience like Wood. Thus, we'd have to dip into free agency or trading. Alex Wood (although the statistics are Double-A, not Triple-A) has the potential to make the starting rotation next year. Could you imagine a rotation of Beachy, Teheran, Minor, Wood, and one of Hudson/Maholm? It doesn't appear that far away.
It's time for action. Either send Alex Wood to Double-A, or use him in higher leverage situations. If he turns into an elite reliever with the stuff of Jonny Venters, (without the Tommy John in his future), then he will definitely have become a worthy draft choice. There are a few things in the way of using him as a setup man, however. Jordan Walden has been as best as they come, and personally I'd take Walden over Wood in a heartbeat to pitch the 8th. Luis Avilan has become a good setup man, although his workload is greatly increased and should definitely be slowed.
Or, send him down to Double-A. Here, I'll say what my personal plan would be for his development. First, have him get back into the starting role. I wouldn't bet on him immediately returning to his dominant self in Mississippi, just to be safe. However, if he does immediately continue his dominance to the tune of a 3.28 K/BB and a 1.26 ERA, then after about 4 starts or so, I'd promote him to Triple-A, where the corresponding move would be to demote or release Daniel Rodriguez. If his demotion to Mississippi were to occur today, 5 starts for the M-Braves would put him at around the beginning to middle of August. Then, a promotion to Gwinnett, where he would immediately be put in the rotation, would give him 4-5 starts in Gwinnett. Take that however you want it, but it's a plan.
If we send Alex Wood back to the minors, then who would we bring up to do "mop-up work"? My personal vote goes to Omar Poveda (3.36 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 2.1 K/BB, .240/.307 double-slash). Any good work we get out of him, no matter what kind in the pen, is the best possible for this minor league-lifer. Or, you could go to the southpaw Ryan Buchter (4.06 ERA, 37.2 IP, 4.82 FIP, although he has a walk problem (1.69 K/BB, 8.36 BB/9)). Others include Wirfin Obispo (3.89 ERA, 3.72 FIP, .220 BABIP, 2.08 K/BB, 44 IP), Joe Beimel (13.1 IP, 4.73 ERA, 6.20 FIP, .281/.359 double-slash), or David Hale (55 IP, 3.42 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 2.05 K/BB, .273/.349 double-slash). No matter what kind of performance we get from these guys in the mop-up role, negative or positive, will be worth it for the sake of Wood's development.