Actually I think he might be better, at least so far.
Throughout his career, Travis Wood has been more or less the same guy. Strikes out about 18% of batters faced, and walks about 8%, which means a relatively large number of balls in play, capping his effectiveness somewhat. Even though his 2013 and 2014 ERAs were starkly different, he was still pretty much the same guy in terms of strikeouts and walks; it’s just that in 2013 only a quarter of the balls he put in play turned into hits, and in 2014 about a third of them did. More hits is bad, remember?
So yes, he’s done that throughout his career – UNTIL NOW! (Cue infomercial music.)
So far in 2015, Travis Wood has struck out nearly 28 percent of the batters he’s faced. That’s 13th in all of baseball among qualified pitchers! He’s also walking fewer batters. So what do you think that does for his numbers? Hint: good things!
But how is he getting more strikeouts? It’s not an increase in velocity, I can tell you that. In fact, his velocity is down slightly.
Wood is getting more strikeouts by throwing more first-pitch strikes so far this year. Two of every three batters he’s faced have gotten a strike on pitch number 1, the high mark of his career by a good margin. And he’s taking advantage of that success by throwing more pitches outside the zone than ever before. And because hitters are behind, they’re having to chase.
For his career, Wood has shown a strongly negative correlation between first-pitch strikes and pitches thrown in the zone. This is his MO: if he can get ahead of you early in the count, he can nibble on the edges and force you to guess if it’s a four-seam, sinker, or cutter, each of which looks nearly the same but for slight differences.
If Wood can continue this trend of throwing first-pitch strikes, he and Kyle Hendricks could make a deeply interesting pair of righty/lefty starters that frustrate batters each time out with their big bag of 84-90 MPH tricks.