Can the Chicago Cubs Count On Travis Wood?

Can the Chicago Cubs Count On Travis Wood?

If you'd prefer to skip the next 600 words: Travis Wood's cutter velocity is falling, and it might mean the end of his effectiveness.

But I figured with the huge trade having just happened, y'all would want to read a post about Travis Wood.

I doubt I'm the only one thinking about his pitching this morning. Now that the Cubs have once again turned pitching into hitting, fans who worry about having the right 25 guys as soon as possible are freaking out trying to decide how this rotation is going to shake out down the road.

To be clear, I'm not worried about who goes where and when. I'd love to have 10 shortstops putting up 1.000 OPSes in Triple A, and go from there in terms of playing some of them and perhaps trading others. The Cubs in this instance have traded short-term assets for long-term talent, and at this point in the rebuild you do that every single chance you get, and worry about 25-man roster construction later.

Or now, I guess -- why don't we worry about the 25-man now? Specifically, how many current Cubs do we think could be part of a five-man rotation for a championship team?

There are some interesting names to talk about. There are some young arms in the bullpen -- namely Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez -- that could be sent back to the minors for stretching and starting. Of course, if Jake Arrieta pitches anything like he has been for the past few months, he looks like a candidate to lead the five-man in the future.

And what about Travis Wood? Wood makes about $4 million this year, and isn't a free agent until 2017. Last year he pitched wonderfully, posting a 3.11 ERA over 200 innings and 32 starts. At the time, he seemed like a lock-it-down long-term asset for the Cubs.

But this year hasn't gone quite as well. He currently sports a 4.62 ERA, and while he's getting more strikeouts than he did last year, he's also walking more hitters -- nearly 4 per 9 innings. So which pitcher is the real Travis Wood, last year's or this?

It'd be too easy to just take the average (Wood's career ERA is more or less 4.00), call Wood a good-not-great pitcher, and walk away. I think we can do a bit better than that by looking at Wood's results by pitch type over time.

Based on what I can see at Brooks Baseball, the key pitch for Wood since he started pitching for the Cubs has been his cutter (Surprise! It's like his pitching coach is Chris Bosio or something). Beginning in July 2012, Wood has thrown his cutter about a third of the time, forsaking his four-seamer, which doesn't have a lot of zip, in exchange.

In 2013, the pitch was awesome for him. According to Baseball Savant, which is a totally amazing website and you should look at it every day, hitters managed a batting average of just .218 against Wood's cutter.

But the results may have been more about good luck than good stuff. Wood's BABIP allowed on the cutter in 2013 was an unsustainable .218. BSavant's Daren Willman calculates FIP by pitch, and says Wood's cutter was worth about a 4.20 FIP. Not nearly as great as it appeared to be.

Fast forward to 2014, and the FIP for Wood's cutter is about the same. But the observed results are significantly different. He's now allowing a .285 batting average against, and the BABIP allowed is up to .328. So while the peripheral stats haven't much changed, the luck seems to have swung from great to very ungreat.

Then again, perhaps there's more than luck going on here, even though the BABIP has fluctuated. Willman's stats also show that Wood's cutter has fallen off in velocity since 2011, down from an average mph of 88 all the way to 85.7 this year.

Wood appears to have been at his best while pumping cutters that frequently turned into outs. If the velocity trend doesn't end, Travis' best days may be behind him.


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  • Finally an article about Wood. Everyone (including management) seems to want this guy around long term. I just don't see it. He is usually at 89 mph, and if he isn't hitting his spots or getting those close calls, it will be a launching pad. Maybe he can stick around as a 5th starter because he's cheap. But if we are relying on him to be a #3, then that's not good. His stuff just isn't good. A lefty like him has to have that big 12-6 curve ball, and he doesn't. His cutter doesn't move enough and it's not fast enough to be effective. Arrieta throws his about 7 mph faster and it moves a lot more. If you can get some great value for Wood you trade him immediately. If not, hold on to him while he's cheap.

  • In reply to DeuceBaseman:

    But Deuce, now and for the conceivable future, he is the #1. Of course, by the time the 5 game series in Cincy is done, the Cubs will be back in the race with the DBacks for you know what.

  • Looks like another sell off next July.....Wood, Castillo, Strop, Grimm, Olt.......

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Theo said "I hope not," but does anyone believe him at this point? Especially since everyone is short of pitching.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    if need be.

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