2012 Player Profile: Travis Wood

Travis Wood relied heavily on his fastballs this season. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 156 (26 G-26 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 4.62 RA, 7.7 H, 3.1 BB, 1.4 HR, 6.9 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 0.7
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Pre-Arb, Third Year)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (90), Two-seam (89), Cutter (87), Slider (80), Change (80), Curve (74)

Travis Wood came a long way in his first year as a Cub, playing himself into a key, middle-of-the-rotation spot in 2013.

Wood was acquired in one of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s first moves with the Cubs organization. The left-hander was part of a three-player package for set-up man Sean Marshall. (Outfielder Dave Sappelt and minor league infielder Ronald Torreyes also came to Chicago.) The goals were explicitly stated: Epstein and Hoyer wanted to 1) bolster the rotation’s depth and 2) flip a player who was one year away from free agency for players who would be under team control for several more seasons.

In terms of the latter, Wood won’t be eligible for free agency until 2017 at the earliest, giving the Cubs someone who can hold one of the Nos. 3-5 spots in the rotation. And regarding the pitching depth, Wood actually started the season as an extra man, spending most of April and May in Triple-A to iron out command issues. Manager Dale Sveum said that Wood didn’t just address his walk rate—which improved only marginally from 8.6 percent in 2011 to 8.3 percent this year—he also developed an entirely new way to attack hitters.

“He’s able to pitch on his arm side now, where he always pitched to his glove side, and he’s able to use his back-door cutter now instead of just throwing his fastball cutter inside,” Sveum told Vine Line in July. “It’s opening up the whole inside of the plate. He’d never done that in his life before.”

Let’s again take a closer look with PITCHf/x data, using the proprietary tags and tools provided by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card).

Wood is a six-pitch pitcher who leans heavily on his hard stuff (blue), throwing about 75 percent fastballs against both right- and left-handed hitters. But there’s still a significant difference within the hard/soft mix: He throws many more two-seam and cut fastballs against righties, which fade away and run in, respectively. Wood then builds in a change-up to keep batters off balance.

Against lefties, he instead looks to leverage the velocity, location and deception on his four-seam fastball. And when he gets ahead in the count, he goes to his slider, which dives away from a same-sided hitter.

Though Wood’s 4.27 ERA was a shade below average overall, his season suffered from a stretch of three horrible starts (22 ER, 9 HR, 15.2 IP) at the end of July. In his 23 other starts, he had a 3.33 ERA. He’s a true fly ball pitcher, and he experienced a huge jump in home runs per fly ball (from about 6% in 2010-11 to 12% in 2012), largely due to those three games. If he can lower that HR/FB rate once again—through better luck or actual skill—he would already have a great chance of improving his ERA in 2013.

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