54 G, 100.2 IP, 3.84 ERA, 3.91 DRA, 28.2% K%, 9.3% BB%
Year in Review
If there is one thing baseball writers and analysts love, it’s spending hours on Twitter discussing their favorite television show (on a related note, head to @AndrewFelper for my vitally important thoughts on Fargo and Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
If there is a second thing baseball writers and analysts love, it’s parsing a player’s season, or seasons,for a sample size that best makes our case. You, loyal readers, have no doubt seen every iteration. First half vs. second half. From May 3rd through July 26th. Over his last 162 games dating back to last season.
Having prepared you for one of the most cliched, oft-used tools in the baseball writer’s arsenal, I feel no shame in breaking it out to review Travis Wood’s 2015 season. With Wood, it’s all about what came before and after May 14th.
By that evening, after Wood’s home against the New York Mets, it had become clear that Wood as a member of the Cubs starting rotation had become an untenable situation. Through seven starts, he owned a 5.59 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, and had managed to make it past the fifth inning in just two starts. The slow start came on the heels of a 2014 in which he posted a 5.03 ERA and 4.93 DRA.
In Wood’s final three starts, he allowed 15 earned runs and 22 baserunners in just 13 1/3 innings pitched. He surrendered six home runs, including three in his final start against the Mets. A team with serious playoff aspirations could no longer put Wood out there every fifth day. The decision was made to move him to the bullpen, and the results were tremendous:
|Through May 14||7||5.59||1.30||24.4%||6.9%||.791||.224|
|May 15 on||47||2.83||1.21||30.5%||11.2%||.581||.074|
The power numbers and baserunners dropped dramatically, while the strikeout rate increased. Without belaboring the peripherals point with a barrage of numbers, his groundball rate increased, and his fly ball rate, home run to fly ball ratio, and hard contact rate all decreased significantly.
Wood became a regular fixture in relief, making at least nine appearances in each of the regular season’s final four months. Wood then appeared in six of eight postseason games, posting a 0.91 WHIP and 41.3 percent strikeout rate. Including the playoffs, 18 of his relief appearances were for more than one inning.
In August, he made four multi-inning, middle-relief appearances in the span of eight days. On September 2nd at Cincinnati, he was brought in to face one batter—Joey Votto—with a two-run lead, and struck him out. Two weeks later, in a crucial late-season showdown at Pittsburgh, Wood picked up a two-inning save, striking out five of the six batters he faced. Out of the bullpen, Wood was a flexible, multi-faceted revelation, capable of holding leads in the middle innings, closing games (four saves), being utilized as a lefty specialist, and making the occasional spot start.
So, what changed for Wood when he was moved to the bullpen?
Where Wood’s Sinker Ends, and Other Forgotten Shel Silverstein Releases
Wood is a fastball pitcher, despite never averaging above 91 mph. In his career, Wood’s fourseam, sinker, and cutter have accounted for 80 percent of his pitches. What was once an effective triumvirate of pitches, though, had become two excellent options (fourseam and cutter) and a sinker that was eminently hittable.
From the start of 2014 through May 14th, Wood had gone to his sinker 23 percent of all pitches, with opposing batter’s slugging .584. Through seven starts in 2015, five of nine home runs came off the sinker.
When he moved to the bullpen, though, Wood tossed out the sinker, and increased his combined fourseam and cutter usage from 55 percent to 81 percent. From May 15th through the end of the season, batter’s slugged .300 or below against all three of his fastballs, and his velocity for each pitch increased by more than a mile per hour. Wood’s new role allowed him to junk what did not work for him (sinker, change, and curve), and stick with with the pitches with which he has the most success.
In the postseason, Wood turned to his primary pitches with even greater frequency. His fourseam usage rate jumped to 65 percent, including 72 percent of first pitches. In Game Two of the NLDS, when he tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings and picked up the win, Wood went fourseam and cutter 24 of 28 pitches, including all eight first pitches. He even touched 94 mph with the fourseam.
Moving to the bullpen has allowed Wood to mask his deficiencies.
On May 14th, Wood seemed in imminent danger of playing his way off an ascending team with postseason aspirations. Entering 2016, he appears to be an invaluable piece of a World Series favorite. As a starter, Wood had two effective primary pitches (fourseam and cutter), one solid secondary pitch (slider), and three disastrous secondary pitches (sinker, change, and curve). Now that he’s throwing 60-75 pitches per week, Wood can get by going to his fourseam and cutter 80 percent of pitches, while mixing in the four other pitches with four to six percent frequency.
Wood’s success against left-handed batters (.597 OPS in 2015, .614 OPS in his career), makes it possible to bring him in to face the Joey Votto’s of the league. His 133 career starts, make him capable of multiple-inning appearances, including emergency starts. In September, he even showed himself capable of closing games. On paper, Wood seems perfectly suited to play a role similar to the one Ramiro Mendoza served for the New York Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In hindsight, Wood’s transition to this role should have been obvious. In his career, in the first three innings, Wood owns a 3.62 ERA and 92 tOPS+. In innings four through six, those numbers jump to 4.55 ERA and 109 tOPS+. Now that he’s found his niche, Wood is poised to be an integral piece of the Cubs bullpen in 2016. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the new season of Blackish.
Lead photo courtesy of Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports