Let's Not Forget It: Travis Wood Was So Good as a Reliever Last Year

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Let’s Not Forget It: Travis Wood Was So Good as a Reliever Last Year

Chicago Cubs

travis wood cubs feature

This winter, I’ve spoken at length about the Cubs’ super utility pitchers and the value they provide for the team.

Individually, we’ve gotten to know Adam Warren, wondered if the 2015 version of Trevor Cahill is the real deal and checked in on Clayton Richard’s versatility.

Of course, that is just three of the four super utility pitchers.

Travis Wood, the longest tenured Cub among them, was brilliant as a reliever last season and should be among the most versatile super utility pitchers in baseball (not to mention his base running and pinch hitting abilities, if the need should arise). So, following the rest, let’s give Travis Wood some love and look back over how successful he was as a reliever in 2015 as we head into the 2016 season.

Before we jump into his numbers as a reliever, let’s start where Wood did in 2015 – the rotation. This stretch is, of course, a bit bit uglier than his time in the pen, but it is important to the story, nonetheless.

From April 10 to May 14, Travis Wood made his final seven starts as a member of the rotation.* That stretch of baseball consisted of 37 innings pitched with a 5.59/5.08/3.83 ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line. Some of his peripherals were still solid, like his 24.4% strike out rate and 6.3% walk rate, but he was giving up a lot of medium and hard contact, while posting a near 30% groundball rate. His fastball was topping out at just 89.0 MPH, and he was giving up too many home runs (2.19 HR/9). It was not a successful run and, to be fair, we probably should have seen it coming.

But then, on May 16, Travis Wood transitioned into the bullpen and became a hugely valuable and extremely successful reliever for the remainder of 2015.

Across his 63.2 innings as a Major League reliever in 2015, Travis Wood dominated, finishing with a 2.83/2.43/3.46 slash line. He had an elevated walk rate (11.2%), sure, but he was striking batters over 30% of the time and brought his HR/9 down to a measly 0.28. His groundball rate, which will never be elite (he’s a fly ball guy by trade), increased up to a much more useful 37.6% and he decreased his hard hit% by 10 percentage points(!).

He changed his pitch mix up as a reliever, as well. Before making the switch to the pen, Wood threw his fastball just 36.0% of the time. As a starter, that jumped up to 53.8%. That’s especially notable, because his average fastball velocity jumped up nearly two MPH as a reliever – likely contributing to the fact that he was missing more bats than ever (76.7% contact rate as a reliever, 81.3% as a starter).

By the numbers alone, Travis Wood was an awesome reliever for the Cubs in 2015. We know, however, that he offered more value to the team than that.

Despite making just 47 total appearances, after his switch to the pen, Wood reached 63.2 innings as a reliever. As a former starter, we knew Wood had the capability of going multiple innings in relief, but the extent and success by which he did it is astounding. Consider that, of the 47 appearances Wood made out of the pen in 2015, 20 of them included greater than one inning pitched and another 16 were full inning outings. Wood’s ability to take over that much of a game was especially valuable to a team with a rotating fifth spot in the rotation and Kyle Hendricks’/Jason Hammel’s periodic struggles.

Steamer is conservative on Wood’s 2016 projections, but that is understandable. Still, they don’t look too bad. In roughly 80 innings, Steamer is projecting a 3.84/3.40/3.59 slash line with up to 1.4 WAR. With average BABIP (.300) and LOB% (70.5%), this feels like a safe bet – and one that you might lock in if you could. Still, I expect that, when it’s all said and done, Wood will finish with a bit more innings (maybe even approaching 90) and a slightly lower ERA/FIP.

Wood’s already done so much to show how successful he can be as a reliever on the fly that I am expecting a step forward in a season that allows him to prepare accordingly. With a full season out of the pen on the schedule, you might even see his fastball velocity tick up a bit more once again.

Travis Wood was a big part of the Cubs success in 2015 and I expect him to be once again, this season.

*Travis Wood made starts on September 12 and September 19; however, both were “bullpen days”, and not expected or planned starts in the traditional sense.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami