GUEST POST - About Travis Wood

Adam Brown is a friend of the blog and graciously accepted an invite to write this up about Travis Wood. Give him a follow if you don't already: @SouvenirCity 

If you watched the 2013 Cubs daily into the months of August and September, first of all, I admire your passion and dedication. You should probably should have submitted to be part of the Committed campaign last year. I would also strongly suggest seeking help because there's a strong chance you're a masochist. There was very little in those final two months of the season that I could derive value from in watching.

One thing that I did plan my viewings around was when Cubs left-hander Travis Wood took the mound every fifth day.

Wood was arguably the Cubs best starting pitcher in 2013. His standard rate statistics of a 3.11 ERA and 1.145 WHIP led all Cubs starters even if you include Matt Garza's 11 starts. It was Wood's best season as a professional even if it did come in a lost season for the Cubs. What we'd like to know going forward is if it's something we can come to expect from Wood, or just how much regression we should be looking at as he enters his prime seasons from age 27 to 30.

Wood Stat Pack 1
Data via Fangraphs

Upon initial review of his seasons as a starter from 2010-2013, Wood's peripherals are remarkably consistent across that time span. His success can't really be attributed to good luck along the lines of BABIP. The only statistic difficult to sustain from his 2013 season would be the uptick in his strand rate. His strikeout and walk numbers are in line with his production since 2010. In his first season as a starter, it's fair to say Travis may have looked to the strikeout too often before becoming more reliant on outs in play. There isn't any extreme deviation in his ERA to FIP or xFIP numbers either.

Only his 2011 stands out as one as an outlier, much of which can be attributed to crappy luck. An elevated BABIP and a career high BB/9 raised both of Wood's ERA and WHIP numbers. He probably should have had an ERA closer to 4 than 5. Instead of allowing a runner and a half per inning, the ~1.200 point in his WHIP could have been achieved by some better luck on balls in play and less base on balls.

Wood Stat Pack 2

Even more consistent are Wood's pitch outcomes. He's long been a fly ball pitcher which has been a detriment based on the two venues he's pitched in. Both Wrigley Field and the Great American Ballpark are hitter's parks, though Wrigley's mood is highly dependent on the wind. Andrew Koo of BP has a great article written specific to Wood and the wind. While it's written with a fantasy perspective in mind, there's details that explain a lot of Wood's first two months of success in 2013.

Hitters consistently make hard contact about one in every five times when putting the ball in play over his career as a starter. The outlier that marks change in 2013 is his infield fly ball rate which is indicative of Wood's increasing ability to fool hitters into making weak contact. While adjusting to Wrigley's Jekyll and Hyde nature in 2012 (lotsa homers, wind blowing out starts), Wood was the beneficiary of the wind blowing in during many of his home starts in 2013 but he also incorporated a cutter into his arsenal for use when behind hitters.

Wood usage graph 2012

Wood graph usage 2013
All data derived from the Narnia that is BrooksBaseball.net

In his first season here, Wood was still tinkering with his cutter after nearly abandoning it in 2011 with the Reds (used it just 3.57% of the time in August of '11). While it was still his 2nd most used pitch in the first half of the 2012 season, it wasn't until the 2nd half of 2012 that he used it above 30% of the time. In 2013, he consistently used it 30%+ of the time and by the end of the season it was his primary weapon along with his four-seamer. While behind in the count, Travis used his cutter ~43% of the time against both lefties and righties. In 2012, it was his four-seamer and sinker that was used 67% of the time while behind a left handed hitter and 47% of the time against righties.

The cutter follows a typical usage pattern of in on the hands of right handed hitters and away to lefties. The increased usage of the cutter allowed for Wood to get weaker contact, inducing that career high rate of infield flies, on his sinker, changeup and cutter. From a scouting scale perspective, PITCHf/x guru Harry Pavlidis (Troy McClure would tell you he's from such appearances as on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential) ranked Wood's pitches by nastiness on the scouting scale for me. His sinker is a 57, his cutter is a 41 and his changeup is a 36. Each pitch works directly off his fastball with the cutter and sinker deviating about 6 inches off the horizontal plane of his fastball in either direction and the changeup about 8 inches. The vertical drag is what results in the weak contact on his changeup obviously.

wood righties cutter GB

 

Instead of posting 50 different heat maps, I opted for the one above to show the groundball rate for Wood on his cutter to right-handed hitters simply for effect. A fly ball pitcher getting this much weak contact on a pitch is surprising. My initial hypothesis was that it would be pop-ups that were induced on balls in to right handers. But, I was wrong*. Because when he doesn't get the ball in far enough, he gets line drives at the same frequency as he does pop-ups (~33%) in that location. I strongly encourage you to go play with the heat maps at BrooksBaseball on Travis because I got lost in them like a 1990s wrestling YouTube wormhole.

An improved arsenal that aids in the deception of hitters leading to weaker contact can only help a fly-ball pitcher like Travis Wood in Wrigley Field. He's never going to be the ace, or even the #2, on any staff in baseball. What he is entering his age 27 season is a role 6 starter that can be a #3 on this team and a quality complimentary #4 on a competitive team. Every team in baseball needs a player to fill that role.

Now the Cubs just need to figure out the pieces that slot above him.

* - not the first time, certainly won't be the last either

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: Baseball, Cubs, mlb, Travis Wood

Comments

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  • Having been a fan for 5 decades I can tell you it's not a prerequisite to be crazy to be a Cubs fan, but it sure does help in Augusta and September.

  • Interesting read, well done.

    Also of note, his 2011 season reduced his value to the Reds so significantly, that we were able to get him along with Sappelt & the Jockey for 1yr of Sean Marshall. Perfect example of Epstoyer buying low. Sometimes it's bad luck, or just an adjustment that needs to be made...

    I like Travis as a player, not sure he fits into our "Core" as he will be ready for bigger dollars by the time we are competitive and it just makes more sense to fill our #4 & #5 SP's with the plethora of young cost controlled arms we have coming through the system.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Seconded

  • This is great Adam. Encouraging yet objective analysis.

  • An interesting post and interesting analyses. Thanks for the thoughts Mr. Brown (via Mauricio).

    In general - pitchers who can avoid the long-ball in Wrigley - at least on the days the wind isn't howling into the OF stands when pretty much nobody is immune to the HR bugaboo - do fairly well.

    Last year - Wood did a good job of avioding the HR most of the time. Thanks for the explanation & data as to why. Kind of had an intuative feel for it - but numbers are often better than a gut feeling.

    The reason why it is I think future pitchers like Beeler & Hendricks should fare well in Wrigley is because (in general) they keep the ball down in the zone more. As long as there is a solid defense behind them - they will appear better than some simplistic indicators (like raw K-rate for example) might suggest.

    And one thing that management has been doing to date,.... putting together a sound fundamental defensive core,.... should help out any pitcher.

  • Thanks for the work here. You just gave me more info than Gordo has for the last year. This was a real interesting piece and I came away with some good knowledge.

  • One thing I like about Wood.

    When he's in the game it's almost as good as the Cubs having a DH and the other team sending up a pitcher. It's not an insignificant advantage.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    He's no Carlos Zambrano, but he can hold his own with the bat for sure...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Zambrano's bat, don't think I've ever seen a pitcher that could hit that well together with such power.

  • In reply to notcarlosdanger:

    Wood's OPS last year was a Zambrano-like .639 and he hit 3 HR's.
    Hopefully he can keep that up.

  • and don't forget his fielding. that's a major plus

  • In reply to Cuyler:

    It is so much better than Garza's. When there was a bunt and Garza was fielding, I covered my eyes.

  • In reply to John57:

    I never got why everyone didn't bunt on him, especially on nights where he had good stuff. Any mediocre bunt just to his right would've been an adventure.

    He surely would've thrown some of those bunts into the OF, plus it almost certainly would've rattled him.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Seemingly very few MLB players can bunt with any degree of proficiency, or lack the willingness to do so. It's a lost art.

  • Really great analysis. It will be interesting to see how his peripherals will changes as he matures further. I feel he is on the cusp of a few very solid years in a row. And hopefully there will be enough variation in the staff to allow the Cuba to keep other teams off balance.

  • I am curious as to people's thoughts on the possibility of Woods being a flip candidate at the deadline. If he is putting up similar #'s as he did last year, he might be showing that last year wasn't a fluke and that he cold be a high level #3 and for someone making a run for a deep playoff run, could return some value.

    Just a thought.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    He has 3 seasons left before he becomes a free agent. I'd rather extend him but, even if we can't, I don't think you entertain trade offers until next winter. And, if it still looks like 2015 and 2016 could be serious push years, I'd hold him and potentially get a pick for him in the 2017 draft.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I don't think he is a flip candidate because we are short on left handed starting pitchers coming up soon. Plus he was our best starting pitcher last year. Have to keep him right now. He is very valuable to us.

  • This is some sound analysis and kind of cuts against the perception that Wood had a lucky season in 2013. If he has a similar year with an improved Shark & EJax this rotation could be at least average, and with a better bullpen this team might even play close to .500 by the ASB.

  • I wonder if Wood is on more of a "Ted Lilly" type of projection going forward or will it be more "Randy Wolf / Chris Capuano". I would love to see compariables based upon peripherals.

  • Excellent analysis. Thanks for taking the time to give us a different perspective on Travis Wood.

    I believe Wood missed the first month and a half of 2012 (started in the minors). Those first 6 weeks are by far the friendliest weeks for a Cubs pitcher, due to the extremely frigid temps and hitters not completely in synch.

    That's why I think this year's stats will be more like 2013 than 2012. Yeah, I know, cutting-edge and in-depth analysis. (Theo if you need a pitching scout I'm available!)

    Last year was good Wood, I'm thinking more of the same this year, too.

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