Cactus League Game 22, Cubs at Mariners

marc w · March 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under 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
SP: Walker

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.


10 Responses to “Cactus League Game 22, Cubs at Mariners”

  1. Nate on March 25th, 2015 9:25 pm

    Great outing by Walker. I hope our bullpen can hold onto this.

  2. groundzero55 on March 25th, 2015 9:52 pm

    I think Taijuan just made things official with his outing today.

    I’m also pleased with Zunino so far this spring. If he can up his average to something useful during the season, it could potentially have a huge impact on the lineup.

  3. mrmitra on March 25th, 2015 11:42 pm

    Speaking of Zunino, is there anything from a scouting perspective that indicates he has taken a step forward offensively? Zunino maturing as a hitter would be a huge help for the Mariners’ playoff aspirations but I don’t want to get sucked into a Spring Training mirage.

  4. MrZDevotee on March 26th, 2015 8:03 am

    Re: Zunino
    Supposedly he has shortened his swing, and they’ve emphasized moving away from being simply a pull power hitter, to instead being a contact hitter and using the whole field.

    It seems like it’s working, but yeah– spring training caveat. The regular season will tell, when the pitching gets nastier.

    But catcher is a good position to see improvements in with a young player– because the responsibilities are pretty overwhelming on a rookie catcher. So as he’s more comfortable in his role– knowing his own pitching staff better now, as well as others in the AL West– I think it’s reasonable to expect his performance to improve.

  5. stevemotivateir on March 26th, 2015 7:15 pm

    He has nowhere to go but up offensively, MrZD!

  6. Notfromboise on March 26th, 2015 7:35 pm

    Hopefully his batting eye will become sharper this year, too. Would be nice to see some more walks out of his plate appearances, and deeper counts should translate into better balls to hit in the first place. Especially if he’s slated to hit 7th (behind Morrison) pitchers might be less inclined to give any player in his spot something to hit. The fact that he’ll swing at more than most and loves first and second pitches in an an at-bat makes that even more dire.

    And as stevemo pointed out : the bar is pretty low to start the season!

  7. groundzero55 on March 27th, 2015 1:16 pm

    And now David Rollins seems to have made a serious misstep.

  8. Eastside Suds on March 27th, 2015 2:13 pm

    Oh boy…..Word out of Peoria is David Rollins is suspended 80 days. Seems like this ends that Rule 5 conundrum. Hello Tyler Olson?

  9. djw on March 27th, 2015 2:41 pm

    So how does this work? Do the Mariners have to add him to the 25 man immediately when his suspension is up to avoid giving him back? Does he have to occupy a 40-man spot in the interim?

  10. Shoeless Jose on March 29th, 2015 11:59 am

    RIP Victor Sanchez. First Greg Halman, now this.

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