On Saturday night, Cincinnati Reds lefty Travis Wood nearly became the third starting pitcher to twirl a perfect game during the 2010 season (well, technically fourth, but let’s not beat a dead horse). The 23-year-old went toe-to-toe with Roy Halladay, who achieved perfection on May 29th against the Marlins. Wood punched out eight, walked none and surrendered just one hit (a double to Carlos Ruiz to lead off the 9th) while going nine frames. Despite that superb effort, the Phillies prevailed in 11 innings.
Wood went to his fastball early and often — according to BrooksBaseball.net, he threw his 90 MPH four-seamer (topping out at 93 MPH) on 77 of his 109 pitches (71 percent), getting a strike with the pitch 71 percent of the time. He also mixed in some high-80’s cutters, low-80’s changeups and low-70’s curves. Overall, Wood threw strikes 68 percent of the time.
So, who is this guy, and what can we expect from him moving forward? Let’s take a closer look.
An Arkansas prep player, Wood was selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2005 draft. The 5-11, 165 pound port sider had a strong college commitment to Arkansas, but Cincy persuaded him to turn pro for $600,000. Wood’s size and delivery (Baseball America said he had some recoil at the end) scared some scouts, but his fastball piqued their interest. Here’s part of BA’s scouting report from 2005:
Wood is a long-term project, albeit an intriguing one because there aren’t many lefthanders who can reach 95 mph. His fastball sat at 88-91 mph for much of the spring, but he started making more frequent forays into the mid-90s as the draft drew closer. Wood isn’t tall, but he generates his velocity with a quick arm and athleticism. Wood hasn’t shown much aptitude for spinning a breaking ball, and his curveball ranges from below-average to decent. For the most part, he just rears back and blows fastballs by inferior competition.
Wood made his debut that summer, putting hitters to shame in 48.2 innings split between the Rookie Level Pioneer and Gulf Coast leagues (12.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 2.29 FIP). In 2006, he moved up to the Low-A Midwest League and continued to miss lots of bats — 8.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 and a 4.01 FIP in 140 frames. After the season, BA noted that his low-to-mid-90’s fastball from high school was largely absent (he sat 87-91 MPH), but his changeup had developed into a true weapon. His breaking ball, on the other hand, remained a work in progress.
Unfortunately, Wood wouldn’t get much of a chance to improve in 2007. Bothered by a sore shoulder, Wood saw his fastball velocity dip into the mid-80’s at times, generally sitting in the high-80’s. He logged just 46.1 innings in the High-A Florida State League, with 10.5 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9 and a 4.37 FIP. Baseball America, which rated him as the third-best prospect in the Reds’ system before 2006 and number six prior to 2007, dropped him down to 21st leading up to the 2008 campaign.
2008 did little to redeem his standing within the organization. Opening the season back in the FSL, Wood performed decently — he whiffed 7.9 per nine innings, walked 4.1 per nine and served up 0.4 HR/9. His FIP in 46.2 innings was 3.48, and his park-and-luck-adjusted FIP (per Minor League Splits) was 3.94. But a promotion to the Double-A Southern League proved difficult. His K rate declined (6.5 K/9), his walk rate ballooned to 5.4 BB/9 and he gave up a homer per nine frames. Wood’s ERA was a macabre 7.09 in 80 innings. While he wasn’t near that bad, a 4.92 park-and-luck-adjusted FIP was nothing special. BA booted him off of Cincinnati’s top 30 list altogether.
Last year, the Reds sent him back to the Southern League. Wood responded with 7.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 0.15 HR/9 in 119 IP. His adjusted FIP was 3.98. Following a promotion to the Triple-A International League, Wood struck out 5.9 per nine, issued 3 BB/9 and had 0.7 HR/9. In 48.2 innings, his adjusted FIP was 4.23. Leading up to 2010, BA jumped Wood back up to seventh on the Reds’ list of top farm talents, saying that he remained healthy, regained his 88-91 MPH fastball velocity and added a cutter to his repertoire.
Back at Louisville this season, Wood thrived. Prior to his July 1st big league debut, Wood had 8.9 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and a 3.00 park-and-luck-adjusted FIP in 98 IP. After last night’s masterpiece, he’s got a 17/5 K/BB in 20.2 MLB innings, with a 3.99 xFIP. It’s a very small sample, but hitters have chased Wood’s stuff out of the zone 34.3% of the time (28.6% MLB average).
Before you get too excited about a rookie starter zooming out of the game and nearly making history, it’s important to remember that Wood has long been regarded as more of a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation-type. BA mentioned that some scouts question his long-term durability, while John Sickels said Wood “looks more like a four/five starter based on his stuff.” He’s a fly ball pitcher (career 41 GB%) who’ll make his home starts in a park that, according to the Bill James Handbook, increased home run production by 25 percent compared to a neutral stadium from 2007-2009.
Per Minor League Splits, Wood’s performance at Louisville this season equates to a 4.58 major league FIP, with 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9. CHONE’s rest-of-season-projection is similar — a 4.58 neutralized ERA, with 7.4 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9. Should Wood remain in the major league rotation, those forecasts look about right to me — near perfecto aside, he’s more of a serviceable big league arm than a future star.
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