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How Will Travis Wood Fare in Chicago?

The Cincinnati Reds, now with Mat Latos on board and apparently ready to let Mike Leake abscond with the back-end rotation duties, used their plethora of starters to acquire Sean Marshall, whom they view as having the potential to close games. In that deal, they jettisoned Travis Wood along with two youths to the Chicago Cubs, where he will likely slot in as the team’s #3 starter behind Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, assuming of course that Garza is not traded.

Wood, 24, will be under team control for five years, so there’s certainly time for the Cubs to be patient, but for fantasy baseball purposes in 2012, the more pressing issue is what does this move mean for his value now.

In 2010, it appeared that Wood was establishing himself as a rising star with a 3.51 ERA (3.42 FIP), 1.08 WHIP, and a K/9 of 7.54 in over 100 innings pitched – all as a starter. Some concern was that his 2010 was somewhat buoyed by a .259 BABIP and a low HR/FB rate of 6.3% for a flyball pitcher in a hitters park. Indeed, 2011 treated him to a .324 BABIP although his HR/FB rate still remained low at 6.7%. On the whole, he was far more hittable and he lacked his usual control leading to a disappointing 4.84 ERA (4.06 FIP) and 1.49 WHIP, ultimately resulting in a demotion. When he was recalled, it was mostly as a reliever, and he remained ineffective.

What was particularly notable was Wood’s drop in missing bats. His K/9 dropped from 7.54 in 2010 to just 6.45 in 2011 and his swinging strike rate went from 7.6% to just 6.7%. This can’t be attributed to any loss in velocity as his 2011 fastball on average had more zip than it did in 2010 by just a hair (89.7 mph to 90.0 mph). But what did change a bit was his repertoire.

Wood relied far more heavily on his two-seam fastball, cutter, and change, throwing them all about 8-10% more in 2011 than he did the previous year. His pitch values would suggest that that was a pretty good idea as his two-seamer and cutter were both above average in 2010, but the results in 2011 placed his pitch values well below average. His change remained roughly the same in terms of run value, and it did produce more whiffs in 2011 (16.1%) than in 2010 (11.1%).

Overall, his effectiveness versus right handed batters is mostly to blame for his disappointing season, as his K/9 went from 7.75 in 2010 to 6.41 in 2011, his walk rate went from 2.15 BB/9 in 2010 to 3.41 in 2011, and he saw his FIP increase from 3.27 to 4.27. His change in repertoire could be to blame as his cutter and two-seamer just never produced results:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He can still get lefties out with his slider (18% whiff rate) and his change is effective enough versus righties (16.2% whiff rate) that if he can start to re-master his cutter versus righties, he should see an uptick in the strikeout rate and his overall success. As generally a flyball pitcher, his move from Great American to Wrigley should help a little bit as the former is known for being a home run haven while Wrigley is about league average for right handed batters but almost as favorable to left handed batters. The overall wOBA difference between the two parks is negligible.

It’s worth noting that we really only have about 200 major league innings to evaluate Travis Wood on and speculating on his performance is subject to the typical small sample size criticism. Turning to his minor league results, over 200 innings logged at AAA, Wood posted a 3.67 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and an 8.0 K/9 rate and he never really dominated in any given year other than 2009 when he cruised in the Southern League over 120 innings to the tune of a 1.21 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 7.8 K/9. Wood has mostly been regarded as having potential to be a back-end starter on a good team, and perhaps that’s all he’ll ever be for your fantasy squad too. But his results in 2011 wouldn’t even qualify for that unless you’re in a pretty deep league.

If at an absolute minimum, the good news for Wood owners is he is practically guaranteed a rotation spot in Chicago whereas the battle would still be on in Cincinnati for the last seat in the rotation. Without more major league evidence, it’s hard to project what to expect in 2012, but it’s likely that the 2011 version of Travis Wood is probably as bad as he should look as a starter, and there’s the allure of the possibility that through maturity, a little better luck, and good old change of scenery, he might better resemble the pitcher we saw in 2010. Wood currently isn’t cracking the top 300 at Mock Draft Central, so don’t be too eager to pounce if you’re buying on a comeback — he should be dirt cheap, and as such, a pretty good risk.