Buzzkilling Chicago Cubs’ Travis Wood

woodTravis Wood has been the Chicago Cubs‘ best starter through the first two months of baseball.

4-2 with a 2.24 ERA through 60 innings pitched is the stuff of a staff ace. Be that as it may, Wood isn’t an ace. Despite the fact that every one of Wood’s starts are considered ‘quality’, his ERA-to-xFIP  ratio is the largest margin of any starting pitcher through May 23rd.

To spell it out, he’s on his way to major regression.

There is always a chance that Wood will turn a corner this year–he’s broke 150 innings just once in his three-year career. He pitched pretty well for the Cincinnati Reds his rookie year, but after being traded to the Cubs, his ERA has sat at or above the league average.

Wood can be a good three or four starter and I’m not trying to write him off as a bad pitcher–I am suspicious of his impressive start. When a player hasn’t proven capable of sustaining the numbers they are putting up–especially in a small sample–then its hard to believe it’s for real.

The main thing that has me interested in what’s going on with Wood is the fact that (ten days ago) he was able to pitch seven shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies, while only striking out two batters–that’s incredibly efficient. Wood isn’t a blow-away pitcher and (normally) when a pitcher does an about-face like this, its due to increased velocity. Wood’s fastball is clocked at right around 90 MPH–basically the same speed he’s thrown it his whole career. It’s been very effective so far, but not as much as his best weapon, the cutter–I’ll get to that in a second.

As you can see, all of his velocity–with his sinker being the exception–has declined this year (courtesy of brooksbaseball.net):

wood

Getting back to his cutter, it’s cut at more than any of his pitches and results in a meager .167 batting average with an .077 ISO. Combine that with his four-seam fastball, and he’s allowed just eight extra-base hits (three home runs) in 138 at-bats.

Additionally, he’s all but done away with his curveball and changeup. It was never a good pitch for him-same with his change. Both have been thrown in just 19 at-bats, resulting in two doubles and two home runs–though I don’t see Wood’s decision to throw those less as a legitimate reason for his improvement.

His BABIP is the main suspect in all of his stats–.193 through nine starts (.262 for his career)–and his top five at-bat results are as follows: flyout, groundout, strikeout, single, popup.

Plain and simple, Wood is simply getting contact to go exactly where he needs it to right now. That can happen for stretches and Wood is benefitting from this early. How long he can sustain it is anyone’s guess, but there doesn’t appear to be any underlying skill to what Wood is doing–sorry Cubs fans. There is also an interesting article over at Baseball Prospectus talking about the winds at Wrigley and assuming it’s factoring into Wood’s success–though he’s been just as successful on the road.

Wood is a reason to love baseball whether you’re a stat geek or raised in the old-school–he’s playing in a way that thumbs its nose at expectancy. He’s both winning games and leaving them with his team in a good position to finish with one–his 0.9 WAR is decent.

But I hate to be a buzzkill Cubs fans–Wood might seem special, but you’re going to find out he isn’t.