Travis Wood & The Funky Arbitration Eligible Bunch

Travis Wood had a fine season in 2013, sporting a 3.11 ERA in 200 innings of work for the Cubs. He was statistically the Cubs most consistent starting pitcher last year and he was awarded 3.9 MM in arbitration for it. I think that's more than fair, I don't expect Wood to put up numbers similar to last year. Starting pitchers with K% under 20% give off all sorts of warning signals to me. I don't expect Wood to regress all the way back to the questionable 5th starter he was in Cincinnati but I don't believe that he's a top of the rotation type arm either. Wood had another good BABIP year which considering the type of contact he induces might have a bit more to do with talent rather than just straight up luck.

Season Team GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB xFIP
2010 Reds 0.63 21.4 % 30.5 % 48.1 % 9.9 % 6.3 % 3.97
2011 Reds 0.71 22.4 % 32.1 % 45.5 % 11.3 % 6.7 % 4.61
2012 Cubs 0.78 21.8 % 34.3 % 43.9 % 8.6 % 12.7 % 4.62
2013 Cubs 0.75 22.3 % 33.2 % 44.5 % 14.2 % 6.9 % 4.50
Total - - - 0.73 22.0 % 32.8 % 45.2 % 11.3 % 8.3 % 4.46

(GB/FB = Groundball Flyball Ratio, LD = Line Drive, IFFB = Infield Flyball)

The infield flyball rate is pretty high, and while I'm not the biggest xFIP fan I think that's a number that should be kept in mind for next year.

Let's look at some advanced rates:

2011 Reds (AAA) 20.3 % 7.3 % .301 1.55 .363 67.0 % 3.98
2011 Reds 16.4 % 8.6 % .282 1.49 .324 71.0 % 125 104 4.06
2012 Cubs (AAA) 22.2 % 6.3 % .293 1.43 .358 71.7 % 3.76
2012 Cubs 18.3 % 8.3 % .227 1.20 .244 71.9 % 104 119 4.84
2013 Cubs 17.5 % 8.0 % .218 1.15 .248 77.4 % 80 100 3.89

Again, the K rate is a slight concern and I think he has a slightly worse season next year than this year but Wood is also a pitcher who is worth having in the middle of your rotation. None of this is meant to paint a bad picture of Wood, I'm merely pointing out that we should all expect him to come back to earth a little bit next year.

With Travis Wood dealt with that leaves Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija and Justin Ruggiano as the only players who have yet to settle their arbitration deals. Ruggiano isn't so interesting, so let's concentrate on the other guys.

Darwin Barney requested 2.8 MM which I think is a little high. Barney can't hit, and even when he does he posts the emptiest .270 this side of Jamey Carroll. Barney is a bit of a fan favorite because of his defensive prowess which is seen as a try hard talent but I do think he hurts more than he helps when given 600 PAs. Barney would be better suited for a super utility role much like the one Brendan Ryan should fill on the Yankees.

Jeff Samardzija will be an interesting case. He asked for 6.2 MM which I think is much closer to what he should get than the 4.4 MM that the Cubs countered with. Samardzija isn't a top tier pitcher at this point and considering his age I wonder how much growth there is for him. There is some potential in the young arm and I do think he has a bounce back season next year. He can be a very good 3 starter type who is very much in the Matt Garza mold in terms of production.

Filed under: Analysis, arbitration

Tags: arbitration, Baseball, Cubs, mlb


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  • It appears your evaluation of all the arby cases is spot on. Even with some regression Wood should easily be worth what he's being paid, and I imagine Barney will also settle for a midpoint amount when his salary is reviewed. What's interesting to me is that Sharks offer from the Cubs is quite low when you consider he's been a 3 WAR pitcher the last couple seasons. Wonder if this is a negotiating ploy designed to lower expectations for a long term deal, but I can't think Shark is too thrilled that he can't get $6M/year as a 3rd year arbitration player.

  • Im hoping Jeff loses his case if it goes to the hearing

  • Travis Wood's 2014 will be interesting to watch. Always hard to predict a player's peak, let alone a soon to be 27-year-old lefty starter who has every incentive to keep improving to get that big free agent contract or extension. As always, less important to me is the K rate, and more important is what happens with hitters when they don't record an out. Last year, Wood was 15th best in WHIP (Walks & Hits per Innings Pitched) among NL among starters with at least 100 IP. the year before, 20th best. So unless you don't keep the ball in the park or regular implode with one big inning, you'll keep your team in a whole lot of games.

    Of course if you can have both a high K rate and low WHIP, that's awesome. See Chris Sale and Steven Strasburg. Of course how long those arms hold out is always the big "if" with max-effort power arms.

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    In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    Good points Jeff.

    I also agree that if the cubs offense is improved, he should be able to grab some more wins which at least looks nice next to that beautiful whip n era.

    I just hope that if he starts the season well, that the FO gives him the extension he deserves. If he's our 3rd or 4th starter vs arguably our ace or #2 then our future can be very very bright

  • Nice analysis, Mauricio. I'm hoping Wood will be a bit like Beurhtle in that he can be one of those guys who outpitches his peripherals. I think I'm most worried that the HR/FB rate will increase again.

    As for Samardzija, I agree. I think 6.2M is a little high, but think it's more accurate than Cubs offer. It seems to me they'll settle somewhere in the middle. $4.4M is a lowball. I'd say $5.5M would be a fair deal.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah the HR rate has been high with Wood, but he improved nicely last year, or art least returned to him previous average. We'll see.

  • In reply to SkitSketchJeff:

    It does appear that 2012 was an aberration and that last year's rate is more indicative. For him it's about command and keeping the ball down. He's shorter but he does make up for it by pitching with some leverage.

    There is also the BABIP which has been low the last two years. I don't think that's sustainable. He's going to give up more hits, so he may have to compensate with a drop in his walk rate.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks man. Samradzija needs to earn the award here, but I understand what the Cubs did with the lowball offer here.

  • Conventional wisdom has it that you need TOR pitching to win the series. But is it not feasible that a team with 5 2013 Travis Woods could win a championship? How a about a team with the type of lineup the Cubs project to have in the next couple years?

    There is currently a great deal of hand-wringing over the fact that we don't have a Kershaw/Darvish/Price type lights-out ace. But it seems to me that a team with a powerhouse lineup and a rotation of four solid #3 type pitchers and perhaps a fringe #2 (Shark) could easily be a legit contender. Our prospects et al plus a Wood/Dempster type starter will be a favorite over any team in the league on any given day in any given series IMHO.

  • In reply to adamlweber:

    The way I look at it is that you can produce your #3-#5 pitchers in house and save that money to trade for a TOR or perhaps sign one in FA when the timing is right. It's important to extend Wood at good value, in my opinion, because you may have to overpay to get that TOR.

    Personally, I think you need at least one go-to guy that can shut the opposition down with minimal help from his defense and offense.

  • In reply to adamlweber:

    First of all, we are a long way away from championship talk. That said, I agree with you. Why not 5 Samardija/Wood/Garza types? Back them up with a strong bullpen and they got something. No need to spend the big bucks on what's his name.

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    In reply to xhooper:

    For some time now I have held the belief that a rotation of five #3's would get most teams into the playoffs. But I do think you need at least one ace and preferably two to win the World Series

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Agreed - 4 solid starters, accompanied by some decent offense and defense, even if those starters are all #3 guys, will win you more games than you lose.

    BUT shutdown pitchers win games at important times, not just 'on average'.

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    In reply to drkazmd65:

    I think yeah, having a rotation of #2 and #3 guys can get you into the playoffs, but in the playoffs, a lot of good offenses get shut down by TOR guys. So we do need 1 TOR guy to win it all.

    Remember 2008: that's basically what the Cubs had.
    Dempster, Lilly, Zambrano were all solid #2 guys (probably 3 for Lilly). Marquis was a #4. Harden was great for his 12 starts.

    That plus a league best offense (that actually had a high OBP and clutch hitting) and a solid bullpen got the playoffs pretty easily. But they missed having a TOR arm in the playoffs.

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    what would you say are the odds that the Cubs field more phone calls in July asking about T Wood's availability than Samardzija's?

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Off the board, really. There's so many places both of these guys can go.

  • Interesting idea, going without a TOR pitcher.

    While it'd hard to think about trading one of our beloved top prospects, the idea of drafting someone like Bryant that he's more of a sure thing than one of the pitching prospects, so that his value is as a top prospect to trade or keep. Similarly to the Trea Turner question this year.

    At some point we trade one of these guys for more of a sure thing #1 or #2 pitcher than we could find in the draft. Again, hard to think about dealing Almora or Bryant, but it's part of the take the best player available game.

  • In reply to Morgzie:

    Clearly this FO's play is go for more sure-thing type bats at the top of the draft rather than higher risk TOR pitching. Then they swing for the fences on a big-time arm through free agency. So far the big fishes have not been cooperative, but if the idea is you only need one ace then it makes sense to go this route rather than swinging and missing in the draft.

    Obviously having the ace is preferable, but my thought is a lineup of the sort we have coming makes any #3 closer to a #1 on any given day. Therefore, give your hands a break and stop wringing them out over whats-his-futz.

  • I think making the playoffs without an ace is easily done. The problem arises when your playoff opponent has a ace. In a best of five, their ace could pitch twice; in a best of seven, three times.

    If your best pitcher is a 3, that makes the climb up hill.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    I agree 100% with you. Having 5 #3 pitchers in the rotation can get you into the playoffs but you won't win in the playoffs. Most playoff teams have an Ace. WS champion teams usually have 2 Aces.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    I couldn't agree with this more. I've always felt that a team with a genuine 1-2-3-4-5 quality rotation, that "adds up" to 15 just like a rotation of five 3s would do. But the playoffs are the gotcha, since the better pitchers in the former rotation version get a disproportionate amount of the innings.

    That said, playoff series are so short that I'd be more than willing to take my chances with the five 3s scenario. And in this day and age of skyrocketing salaries, this latter approach would almost certainly be less expensive, right?

  • Off topic, but I was a little disappointed with the spring training open house. The stadium itself was very nice, but I was hoping some of the other facilities (clubhouse, weight room, etc.) would be open. Lots of memorabilia vendors and Bill Madlock was signing autographs. I did, however, overcome my disappointment with dinner at Portillo's, Yum!

  • Didn't the Larry Himes front office have that same philosophy about starting pitching? It was one of the reasons that Maddux was allowed to sign in Atlanta (other than him claiming that they had set a budget for starting pitching and had already spent it). The idea was that if you filled the rotation with #2 and #3 starters, you didn't need a true #1. The Cubs ended up with pitchers like Morgan and Guzman, and Maddux walked. How did that 1993 team end up again?

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    It always breaks my heart when I think of that year. Maddux (who was my favorite Cub even before he won the Cy Young in 1992) was just coming into his dominating years. The front office clearly outsmarted themselves with their philosophy of thinking two average starters were a better play than one Maddux. You would think that all these years later I would have gotten over this by now but I clearly have not. I agree with what everyone has said above. You really need a special starter or two to win the big one in baseball.

    It should be clear to everyone that we do not have one on our 40-man roster right now...

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    Great article w tons of useful information and knowledge.

    Keep up the great work.

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    I think yeah, having a rotation of all #2 and #3 guys can get you into the playoffs, but in the playoffs, a lot of good offenses get shut down by TOR guys. So we do need 1 TOR guy to win it all.

    Remember 2008: that's basically what the Cubs had.
    Dempster, Lilly, Zambrano were all solid #2 guys (probably 3 for Lilly). Marquis was a #4. Harden was great for his 12 starts.

    That plus a league best offense (that actually had a high OBP and clutch hitting) and a solid bullpen got the playoffs pretty easily. But they missed having a TOR arm in the playoffs.

  • We got a high pick this year and might have one next year.
    Maybe we will draft that TOR guy.
    Or maybe the baseball gods will finally shine on the Cubs and we'll draft two!

  • Alot of comments in this thread that teams must have an "Ace" to win a World Series... How about the 2005 Championship White Sox?

    That team won the WS because their Starting pitchers dominated the playoffs. Lost only one game in the postseason, Swept the WS...

    The pitching staff...

    Mark Buehrle
    Freddy Garcia
    Jon Garland
    Jose Contreras
    Orlando Hernandez

    That's a rotation of #2's & 3's if I ever saw one.

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    that's a good example. I'm sure you could find a few more if you looked hard enough. In that case, as you pointed out, they all got hot at the same time, which can happen.

    Having an ace takes some of the luck out of it (i.e. hoping your pitchers get locked in at the right time).

  • In reply to brober34:

    You really don't have to look that hard...

    2013 Boston Red Sox

    Jon Lester
    John Lackey
    Ryan Dempster
    Felix Doubront
    Clay Buchholz

    All #2's & 3's right there....

    2012 San Francisco Giants (who went against Detroit who did have an Ace in Verlander)

    Matt Cain
    Madison Bumgarner
    Ryan Vogelsong
    Barry Zito
    Tim Lincecum (5.18 ERA, didn't pitch it WS)

    More #2's & #3's...

    So yeah, I think if you go through the years history will clearly show that it's more important to have multiple #2/#3 type pitchers that to keep you in each game vs having an Ace as their are only a few in the league anyway.

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