Farhan Zaidi got his guy. It took about 12 extra months to close the deal, though.
The Giants sought Alex Wood an offseason ago, trying to reunite the former Dodgers All-Star with Zaidi, the former Dodgers general manager. It was between the powerhouse organization he pitched for from 2015-18 and the Giants, who were in the middle of a rebuild.
“Fortunately, that decision worked out,” said Wood, who is now coming to San Francisco with a World Series ring, having pitched a pair of scoreless innings in relief in the deciding Game Six.
He hopes he picked correctly an offseason later, saying he “probably could have” gone back to Los Angeles, but would have far less rotation security. With the Giants and a president of operations who have made it clear to Wood that they value him as a starter, the 30-year-old is finding a fit that is better for him, even if his odds of adding a second ring took a tumble. Although of course he’s not going to admit that.
“Farhan really believes in me, and that goes a really long way in my book,” the lefty said Tuesday in his introductory Zoom news conference. “… Now I’m excited to start my journey with the Giants and hopefully be a part of it for a while and see them back to a World Series.”
Wood’s decision ultimately worked out for the Dodgers, though it didn’t look as if it would. A left shoulder injury knocked him from the mound early in the season, and he returned in September as a reliever for a loaded LA squad. A back injury had limited him in 2019, and he’s thrown just 48 1/3 regular-season innings the past two seasons. He has the upside of an All-Star, which he was in 2017, when he went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA. The downside has been on display more recently.
The Giants trust the medicals and their coaching staff, which helped elevate the values of Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly last season. Wood and pitching coach Andrew Bailey already have connected, talking for about 20 minutes Sunday, and it sounds as if Zaidi landed a pitcher with the aptitude Bailey and pitching director Brian Bannister crave.
Wood breaks down his pitches with impressive literacy. Zaidi has praised his deception and guile on the mound, and it’s clear Wood, whose fastball last season averaged 91.2 mph — in the 25th percentile of baseball — is sharp about pitching off the mound, too.
“In a very basic sense, any pitch you throw, it’s going to have some type of vertical break, some type of horizontal break. I have a unique fastball right now — I’m throwing a two-seamer, but it’s playing more like a four-seam, to where I’m getting a lot of vertical movement on it,” said Wood, who signed a one-year deal worth $3 million, with another $3 million possible in bonuses. “I think I averaged over 15 and a half [inches] from a low three-quarters slot for vertical movement during the playoffs in this past season, which is significant and very unique to me individually, so I’m looking forward to exploring how to use that pitch more this coming season.”
He said his changeup “metrically speaking, borders on elite.” According to Baseball Savant, his changeup broke 4 percent vertically better than an average pitcher’s changeup last season. Although it may be changed for next season.
“It was more of a flyball pitch, when metrically speaking it should have been more of a groundball pitch,” Wood said. “And so I’ve dug into some things and addressed some things with it and played with some grips this offseason, to where I’ve actually added about, on average, probably four to four and a half inches of horizontal movement to my changeup. And I think it’s going to be a pitch that I’m really excited to see what it’s like when I get to face hitters.”
With his slider, Wood said, the perceived movement is more significant than the actual movement; his three-quarters delivery fools the hitter. It’s part of what attracted Wood to Zaidi and GM Scott Harris: He’s different. Though he pitched alongside Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani in Cincinnati in 2019, he doesn’t have nearly the live arms they possess.
“I throw more of a gyro-y slider, which as far as movement profiles, it profiles around zero vert,” Wood said. “Anything below five vert on any breaking stuff is very solid.”
Bailey and Bannister have a new mind and arm to work with, one who saw the Giants last season and noted they had a strong lineup against lefties; during a July 25 game at Dodger Stadium, San Francisco went Austin Slater-Donovan Solano-Wilmer Flores-Darin Ruf at the top of the lineup and got to Wood for three runs in three innings.
Maybe joining that lineup will work out better. It’s hard to question Wood’s decision-making at the moment.