Cactus League Game 22, Cubs at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Travis Wood, 7:05pm Root TV
Travis Wood is a lefty with a rising fastball and an assortment of breaking pitches behind it – the cutter gets the most use, but he makes several stops along the cutter-to-curve route: a slider about 6mph slower than the cutter, and then a curve another 8mph slower than the slider. He’s got a change-up, as he’s faced right-handed line-ups frequently, and while it’s not a plus pitch, it’s not a disaster, either. As an extreme fly-ball guy, Wood’s been up and down depending on his control (last year’s poor results stem in large part from his nearly 10% walk rate) and how many of those fly balls leave the yard. When both of those factors align, he’s a solidly above-average pitcher; he put up nearly 3 fWAR in 200 innings in 2013, for example. The problem is that it’s apparently quite difficult for him to maintain that alignment. His HR/FB ratio crept up last year, and combined with poor control and a BABIP spike, and Wood became a replacement-level hurler by fielding-dependent metrics (his ERA started with a 5), and only so-so by FIP/xFIP. So is he an intriguing 4th starter with upside, or someone you simply can’t count on in the rotation if you want to compete for a divisional title?
Probably both, but despite so-so velocity, there’s enough raw stuff here that I wouldn’t be comfortable writing off his 2013 as a fluke. The extreme vertical rise on his fastball generates quite a few infield pop-ups, and that should – SHOULD – help him beat his FIP. It hasn’t for a few reasons. One is probably some bad luck, including the bad luck to play in a division that includes two very homer-friendly parks (MIL and CIN). The other has to do with his pitch mix. Like a lot of pitchers we’ve talked about recently, from JA Happ to Jered Weaver, Wood’s picked up a sinker to complement his four-seam fastball. Unfortunately, it’s atrocious, and he’s exacerbated that by throwing it mostly to opposite-handed hitters. Righties have feasted on the offering, batting .339 with a .535 SLG% over the course of 300+ at-bats. Meanwhile, they’re struggling against his four-seamer, which makes sense given all of that platoon-split-killing rise. He’s throwing a worse pitch more often.
When the Cubs acquired him from the Reds, he was coming off a sub-par season, and he placed some of the blame for that on an over-reliance on his cutter. The Cubs evidently didn’t agree with that assessment, as Wood has gone from throwing it a bit less than 1/5th of his pitches to over 1/3 in 2012 and 2013. Wood’s results haven’t been outstanding with it, though it’s a pitch he uses more frequently when behind in the count, so that’s to be expected. His results aren’t altogether bad with it, and he’s never quite got the hang of his slider. With his solid four-seamer and passable cutter and change-up, it might help to simplify things a bit. Some guys can throw five pitches for strikes, and some guys put up 10% walk rates.
Meanwhile, Taijuan Walker’s march to the opening day rotation continues. Today, he’ll miss uber-prospect Kris Bryant and get to face Mike Olt instead. He *will* face six lefty-hitting Cubs to start with, though.
1: Weeks, DH
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Ruggiano, LF
7: Morrison, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
The story of the day may be word about an investigation into gambling by former Astro current Marlin righty Jarred Cosart. Cosart DM’ed a sports handicapper on twitter, and then the handicapper posted (edited) screenshots of the conversation. Twitter, ladies and gentlemen. I should say that the screenshots at the center of this do not indicate or imply that he bet on baseball; as a product of Texas high schooling, it doesn’t seem like a big leap to assume he was betting on football, for example. But then, a pro athlete tweeting at an internet betting tipster does not earn one a whole lot of benefit-of-the-doubt points when it comes to doing something as stupid and career-threatening as betting on baseball while being employed by baseball.