He’s only thrown 12.1 innings this season, but through his first two starts Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood has drastically increased his strikeout rate compared to the rest of his career.
Wood’s strikeout rate currently sits at 12.42 K/9 as he’s punched out 17 batters so far in 2014. Throughout the past three seasons amassing 462 innings, Wood had established a strikeout rate of 6.6 K/9. While he will obviously not come close to maintaining his current gaudy K-rate over the course of a 200-inning season, the early uptick in strikeouts may be an early sign that Wood is elevating his game to a new level.
When Wood broke into the big leagues in 2010, his strikeout rate was a respectable 7.54 K/9 as he struck out 86 batters in 102.2 innings pitched. During that stretch Wood showed flashes of brilliance and came within three outs of throwing a perfect game against the Philadelphia Phillies in just his third career big-league start. Wood finished the game throwing nine innings with eight strikeouts to zero walks and one hit allowed.
Instead of building on his breakout 2010 season, though, Wood badly regressed in 2011 with a 4.84 ERA in 106 innings pitched. The disappointment of 2011 was enough for the Cincinnati Reds to include Wood in the trade that sent relief pitcher Sean Marshall over from the Cubs. While Wood was just alright for the Cubs in 2012, with a 4.27 ERA in 156 innings pitched, in 2013 the brilliant version returned to the mound as the left-hander threw 200 innings with a 3.11 ERA.
However, last season’s breakout was deemed unsustainable by most onlookers due to the fact that Wood doesn’t pile up the strikeouts and seems to get by on guile and pitching to contact. So far in 2014, though, Wood has been dominant as a strikeout pitcher due in large part to a decreased use of his fastball and an increased use of his cutter.
Wood has thrown his cutter far more than any other pitch at 46.2 percent so far through his first two starts. That number is up from 35.9 percent a year ago, while his fastball usage has gone from 36.3 percent last year to 33.7 percent so far this season. Wood has also been more effective with his slider this season, which may be due in part to the similar action of both cutters and sliders. If the slider looks the same coming out of Wood’s hand as the cutter, then both pitches become more effective with batters unable to distinguish between them.
It’s still incredibly early in the season so no real conclusions can be made yet. However, with Wood striking out eight Phillies and then nine Pirates in back-to-back starts, a trend may be emerging. While Wood has never lit up the radar gun, he has always shown plus command with his pitches. If he can combine that command with some added dominance, Travis Wood may establish himself as a legitimate No. 2 starter.