Pitching is as much an art as it is a science. Not all guys that throw 97 mph have success – think Daniel Cabrera. At the same time a 45 year old Jamie Moyer, who literally could barely hit 83 mph on the radar gun, won 16 games with a 3.71 ERA for the Phillies in 2008. Sometimes “stuff” isn’t enough, and that’s where the art of pitching comes in. One such pitcher who seemed to “figure things out” in 2013, despite not having the raw stuff to scare anyone, was the Cubs’ Travis Wood. The question now becomes can he sustain the success he flashed last season even though his raw stuff isn’t impressive.
From 2010-12 Wood made 65 appearances, four were out of the bullpen, and the results showed him to be a league average arm at best: 17-23, 4.22 ERA, 6.94 K/9, 2.34 K/BB an a 1.09 HR/9 mark. As a result no one paid him any attention in mixed leagues heading into 2013. Too bad too since he performed very, very well in the last campaign.
Wood once again had a losing record in ’13 at 9-12, and while I normally brush off records I have to say that it is a bit disconcerting that Wood is 26-35 in his career including 15-25 the past two seasons. Wood hasn’t exactly impressed as someone who can win a ball game when his club really needs a “W.” He’s no Jack Morris who claimed he pitched to the score and did just enough to get the win, something he did 254 times in his storied career.
As for Wood’s other numbers from 2013 two stood out in a positive way. Wood posted a 3.11 ERA. As I noted above, his career mark entering the year was 4.22. We’ll get back to explaining whether or not he truly deserved the full run reduction in a moment. The other number that draws your eye is the 1.15 WHIP. I’ll come back to that as well.
Going back to the comparison I made at the start of this piece, Wood is no Cabrera, he’s no Moyer either, but his stuff would certainly be closer to Moyer if I had to make the call. Wood’s heater is 89 mph, he throws his 86 mph cutter 34 percent of the time, and he mixes in his change up and slider at about a 20 percent rate. He works the strike zone, changes speeds, and tries to entice batters into getting themselves out or in the least into hitting “his pitch.” Did his approach work in 2013?
Wood didn’t induce more swing and misses last season. Well, that’s not completely true. His swing rate on pitches thrown inside the strike zone, swings that batters missed the ball, improved by 1.5 percent from his career mark. Practically speaking though that really is white noise and means nothing. The end result was a 6.48 K/9 mark. (1) That’s a substandard mark for a big league hurler as the mark was just slightly over 7.5 in 2013. (2) The 6.48 mark of Wood’s was actually lower than his 6.87 mark from 2012 and it was also below his career 6.77 mark.
Wood owns a 2.96 BB/9 mark. That’s just over a tenth below the NL average since he started his career. Last season that mark was 2.97, right in line with career norms. Unfortunately the low K rate and the average walk rate left him with a 2.18 K/BB ratio in 2013 an a career mark of 2.28. Since he began his career in 2010 the average NL arm has posted a mark of 2.42. Again, we’ve got Wood performing at a level that is less than the league average.
Wood allowed a 22 percent line drive rate in 2013, the fourth straight year the mark has been at least 21.4 percent. Again, this mark is worse than the league average of about 19-20 percent. Somehow, for the second year in a row, and despite not having dominating stuff, Wood had a BABIP under .250 (the last two years his BABIP has been .244 and .248). This makes little to no sense. Given the totality of his pitching line there’s no way to explain a BABIP that is consistently that that low. I know he’s been in the .240′s over 58 starts and that’s impressive, but I also know that there is better than a 50/50 chance that the number could increase substantially in 2014.
The next concern with Wood is that his GB/FB was a pathetic 0.75 in 2013. That number is right in line with his career mark of 0.73 but it’s also 25 percent below the league average. Considering the fly balls he allows, Wood’s 0.81 HR/9 mark is too low (his mark last season). His 1.44 mark from 2012 is too high, but the fact is that he should be somewhere in the middle of the two numbers he threw up there the last two seasons.
So let me sum up what we have in Wood. We have a decent left-handed arm that can take the ball and provide his team solid innings. We also have an arm that is below average in strikeouts, just slightly better than average with the free pass, worse than the league average in line drive/ground ball/ fly ball rates, and one whose BABIP has been artificially low the past two years. Given all of that, here’s what you need to remember with Wood – he’s simply not that talented. In fact, if you look at the totality of his effort last season you find the same pitcher that we saw from 2010-12 post an ERA of 4.22. You don’t have to take my word for it, just look at two measures which show just how “normal” Wood was last year despite the outward appearance of improvement.
Career: 4.37 SIERA, 4.46 xFIP
2013: 4.50 SIERA, 4.46 xFIP
Sorry folks, but Wood pitched the same as he always does last season yet his ERA dropped more than a full run (you can thank an uptick in his left on base percentage from 70 percent in his first three seasons up to 77.4 percent last year. By the way, the 70 percent is exactly the league average, yet again). Face facts with Wood. His ERA and WHIP from 2013 will go up in 2014 with his ERA in danger of rising a run or more. Given his lack of stuff, his lack of K’s, his inability to completely remove the walk from his game, too many fly balls allowed, and an inexplicably low BABIP, it would be prudent not to target Wood in any league in 2014. In fact, it would further be in your best interests to consider passing on him even if he’s still available in the later rounds since he’s much more likely to be nothing more than an innings filler in 2014 than someone you can trust in the game of fantasy baseball.
By Ray Flowers