Travis Wood is traveling in the wrong direction.
Wood made his debut in the majors in 2010, throwing 102.2 innings of 3.51 ERA ball. He wasn’t lucky, either: his FIP was 3.42. As an age-23 season, it was quite impressive: he even threw a 3.31 K/BB ratio in there for good measure.
He hasn’t repeated his good fortune since. In 2011, his ERA ballooned to 4.84, and his FIP rose to 4.06 as well. His BABIP went a lot higher (.324 from .259), and he lost a K per 9 while gaining a BB per 9. Things were not going in the right direction, and the Reds jettisoned him in the 2011 offseason for premier set-up man Sean Marshall.
As a Cub, his season was arguably worse in 2012. Travis got his ERA down to 4.27, but his FIP climbed all the way to 4.84. His BABIP was crazily, crazily low (.244), so he was generally hit-lucky, but HR-unlucky (his rate essentially doubled to 12.7% HR/FB and 1.44 HR/9).
What Travis Wood will we see in 2013? Will it be the very good 2010 model, or the much worse 2012 version?
Wood throws 3 pitches with any regularity, though he’s been mixing in an 80mph slider more this year.
His first offering is an 89 mph fastball. It’s not a very good pitch (below average, by linear weights), but it’s not an absolute killer. He throws it around 50% of the time. His cutter is around 87 mph and he threw it 30% of the time in 2012. PITCHf/x rates it as above average. His changeup makes up another 10% of his pitches, and it’s 80 mph. His changeup was rocked last year, probably because it ended up being a home run nearly every time he threw it. Lastly, Wood mixed in an 80 mph slider 10% of the time last year, and it was surprisingly effective. It was far and away his best pitch according to PITCHf/x last year.
This jives somewhat with the early scouting reports I’ve seen on Wood. Many of them praise his great changeup, but it doesn’t get hitters out at the major league level (and it hasn’t all 3 years). He started developing his cutter around 2009, which has turned into his best pitch, and a weapon he’ll have to use effectively if he wants to stick in the bigs.
Travis is never going to overpower major league hitters. He’s essentially average in inducing swings, with the minor exception of not fooling people outside. The problem, though, is that hitters make contact with Wood at an alarming rate outside of the zone. That’s the primary driver for his decreased strikeout rate and very indicate of a lack of dominance. Players that swing at Travis Wood’s pitches make contact at the 12th highest rate in baseball, among contemporaries like Kevin Millwood, Lucas Harrell, and Bronson Arroyo. He’s 6th in the league in O-contact% (the percentage of times a ball is out of the zone, the batter swings, and makes contact anyway). This is the surest recipe for not striking guys out (in fact, Wood’s 6.87 is the highest of the top 10 in this category).
Travis Wood is never going to strikeout a batter per 9 innings. He’ll likely struggle to strikeout 8 per 9 innings. For this reason, he’ll never amount to more than a #4 or #5 starter (unless he has a preternatural ability to locate his pitches that we haven’t seen yet). I think the ceiling for Wood is very low, but the floor is pretty high. He’s consistenly shown the ability to get some outs in the major league level, and there is value for an innings-eater at the back of less-than-impressive rotations (not a lot of value, but some).
Wood also has shown the ability to retire lefties at a pretty healthy rate (.215/.287/.342), so on a good team, he might be a swingman/LOOGY. As it happens right now, he’s our #5 starter. Time will tell if he can stay that way.