There were few bright spots for the Cubs in 2013, but among them all, Travis Wood shined brightest. At 26 years old, Wood was ranked just outside the top ten among National League qualifiers with a 3.11 ERA in exactly 200 innings.
His impressive season included a 3.89 FIP, 1.145 WHIP, and an All-Star appearance. All together, Wood’s impressive 2013 rewarded him a 4.4 WAR, placing him 8th overall in the National League in that category with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Jose Fernandez, and Cliff Lee above him.
The Cubs felt as though they had found something in the left-handed starter after trading lefty setup man/rotation-filler Sean Marshall to the Cincinnati Reds back in December of 2011. After breaking the rotation in his first year as a Cub in 2012, Wood established convincing consistency in 2013, seemingly establishing himself among the top tier of pitchers.
It looked as though Travis Wood could at least be a reliable middle-of-the-rotation guy when the Cubs were primed to contend, if not fill in at one of the top slots. The idea was simple. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, 2014 happened and it wasn’t especially kind to our pal Travis Wood. Last season was actually really bad for the lefty, as he went 8-13 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 starts, posting a 4.38 FIP in 173.2 IP. Yikes.
The good news is his 173.2 innings lead the entire Cubs pitching staff (thanks in large part to the departure of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hamel, along with how bad Edwin Jackson was). Unfortunately, he filled those innings with a career-high 3.9 BB/9, a career-worst 1.532 WHIP, and close to 10 hits per nine innings pitched. That’s a long ways away from his 2013 numbers.
The problem with Wood last season was his failure to maintain the one thing he worked so hard to establish in 2013: consistency. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, it was easy to magnify how incredibly inconsistent the 27-year-old lefty really was in 2014. Each month brought a different chapter in Wood’s season long story.
- Apr/Mar: 5 starts, 3.52 ERA, 31K/7BB, .270 AVG and .681 OPS against
- May: 6 starts, 6.62 ERA, 27K/14BB, .256 AVG and .772 OPS against
- June: 5 starts, 3.19 ERA, 19K/18BB, .243 AVG and .712 OPS against
- July: 6 starts, 6.89 ERA, 31K/16BB, .338 AVG and .919 OPS against
- August: 6 starts: 3.18 ERA, 25K/15BB, .234 AVG and .710 OPS against
- Sept/Oct: 3 starts: 9.24 ERA, 13K/6BB, .364 AVG and 1.008 OPS against
The only reliable part of Wood’s 2014 campaign was his innings pitched, as he eclipsed 30 in every month but September. Other than that, teams pretty much had Wood figured out. Batters hit for a high average against the southpaw and were able to reach base at an efficient rate via the free pass. Opposing hitters finished the season with a .277 average against and a .353 OBP.
When Wood struggled during a start, it was all hands on deck. In his 13 losses, he put up an atrocious 8.91 ERA and 2.010 WHIP that would have made even minor league managers cringe. However, in Wood’s 8 wins it looked as if he was back to his 2013 form, posting an impressive 2.29 ERA and 0.909 WHIP. Put it together and you get a heaping dud of a season that raised questions about the lefty’s future.
Wood’s prominent 2013 hinted at the idea that he could possibly act as a centerpiece in a rotation that was bound to see a lot of moving parts in 2014. As expected, parts moved and an influx of new young talent emerged eager to showcase their skills. At that point, after Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were both shipped to Oakland, Wood had a chance to rectify his ugly first half and become an anchor of the Cubs’ staff after the All-Star break.
Sadly, things didn’t pan out like Wood or the Cubs had hoped, as he went 1-5 with a 5.14 ERA while allowing 73 hits in 63 second half innings. Travis Wood went from a 4.4 WAR to -0.9 in just one season. Again, yikes. Luckily for the Cubs, Jake Arrieta picked up the slack and claimed the role as clear-cut ace of the staff.
The big question for Wood, who turns 28 in February, is whether or not he can return to his lights-out form from 2013. He’s at an age where his value is still rising and the Cubs are in a good spot when it comes to the affordable lefty.
Wood is now arbitration eligible for the next two seasons and is set to become a free agent in 2017 if the Cubs decide not to lock him up long term. Given the Cubs’ need for starting pitching, Travis Wood doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon. Though you never know with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer calling the shots. Wood is expendable. I’m sure countless teams would take a chance on a young left-handed starter and present a decent return.
But before any of that comes to fruition, Wood needs to prove his worth come next year. 2015 is going to be the litmus test as to whether or not he can regain his All-Star potential. It’s extremely unfair to jump ship on Travis Wood after just one bad season, but it is frustrating to see a guy put up such impressive numbers one season only to struggle the next.
It’s also unfair to expect such production from a player that’s had just one good season in his young career. Realistically, the Cubs can ask Wood to be a stable middle or back-of-the-rotation arm next season. If all goes well, 2014 can be considered a bump in the road in what can still be a solid career.
Wood still has the potential to be a good pitcher for a competitive Cubs team. If he can return to his 2013 form, the Cubs could potentially own one of the top rotations in baseball when it’s all said and done. He just has to find a way to be consistent.