Travis Wood has been a mainstay in Chicago since he was traded for in December of 2011, from the Reds in exchange for reliever Sean Marshall. Now the longest-tenured Cub, Wood filled in admirably as a starter in the rebuilding years, then transitioned to the bullpen midway through the 2015 season. Wood was excellent out of the bullpen last year, solidifying his role as a backend option by striking out 30.2 percent of the hitters he faced and holding opposing batters to just a .207 batting average.
The numbers have been a bit different so far in 2016. Tabbed as one of Joe Maddon’s “super-utility pitchers” coming out of Spring Training, Wood has been able to go for just one out or go for multiple innings throughout the year. He has been less dominant though, striking out just 18.3 percent of the batters he has faced. His DRA jumped from 3.87 in 2015 to 5.32 in 2016 and his cFIP has gone from 97 last year to 125 this year. All of this is a long way of saying that Travis Wood hasn’t been as good this year. The question now is how should Joe Maddon be using Wood? To this point, there’s really been no usage patterns. He has thrown more than one inning nine different times. He has faced just one batter a total of 14 times.
With the addition of Mike Montgomery, Wood probably doesn’t need to fill the multiple inning role anymore. Even after bringing in lefties in Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman, neither of them are really options to fill one of the roles that the Cubs could desperately use in October, and that is a LOOGY or left-handed one out guy.
If you dig deeper into Wood’s splits, he’s been absolutely torched by right-handers. He has faced a total of 105 batters from the right side and has given up a slash line of .280/.365/.565. Of those 105 batters faced, six of them have homered. However, if you turn it around and look at Woody against left-handed batters, he has given up just a .149/.237/.276 slash line and only two home runs in 97 batters faced. Lefties have done pretty much no damage against Travis. Even with his dominance against lefties and his struggles against righties, Wood has been brought in to only face lefties in just 13 of his 59 appearances.
But why has Wood been so good against lefties compared to righties? His pitch usage is fairly similar to both lefties and righties, leaning primarily on the fastball (about 60 percent of the time) as well as a cutter (about 20 percent of the time) and a slider (about 10 percent of the time). The key for Wood is the effectiveness of those pitches against lefties compared to righties. Against right-handed hitters, Wood only gets whiffs on his fourseam fastball 5.54 percent of the time, the cutter 8.33 percent of the time and on the slider just 7.14 percent of the time. He not only doesn’t miss many bats on those pitches, but they also get hit very hard. Righties slug .614 off of his fastball, .400 off of his cutter and an absolutely ridiculous .857 off of his slider.
If you flip that around to left-handed hitters, Wood still only gets whiffs 8.64 percent of the time on his cutter, but the whiff percentage on his fastball jumps all the way up to 9.54 percent and the slider jumps more than double to 17.31 percent. If you look at the slugging percentage against each of his pitches, it falls to .412 on the fastball. Where Wood really keeps lefties at bay is on the cutter and the slider. Left-handed hitters slug just .154 against his slider and an absolutely minuscule .048 against his cutter. Summed up, Wood does an excellent job of limiting damage against same-handed hitters.
A key part to Wood limiting success against left-handed hitters is his ability to get more ground balls compared to against right-handed hitters. Against righties, Wood gets ground balls 23.91 percent of the time on the fastball, 33.33 percent of the time on the slider and 37.50 percent of the time on the cutter. If you look at the same numbers against lefties, they jump up slightly on the fastball to 27.03 percent. They jump way up on the slider and the cutter, to 70.00 percent and 52.63 percent respectively. The ability to keep the ball on the ground against same-sided hitters has allowed Wood to keep the ball in the ballpark and keep the overall damage to a minimum.
Down the stretch, his role should definitely change. Looking down potential playoff teams, some of the dangerous left-handed bats include Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Matt Carpenter, Brandon Moss, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson, Gregory Polanco and Christian Yelich. The Cubs and Joe Maddon should be using Wood to only face tough lefties. They have Montgomery to fill Wood’s long man role and they have Rondon and Chapman at the back end, but they really don’t have a guy that they can trust to come in and get lefties.
There is going to be a time in October when the Cubs need a lefty to come in and get a key left-handed hitter out. While the Cubs could and should be using Chapman in the 8th and/or 9th innings to do that job, Travis Wood should be the guy that they go to in the 6th or 7th to get that out.
Lead photo courtesy John Hefti—USA Today Sports.