Travis Wood Comes to Grips with Relegation, Maddonization

There are ways one can handle adversity. Well, I suppose there are really an infinite number of ways in which to respond to bad news, each a different color on the spectrum. But I’m going to simplify things to black and white when it comes to Travis Wood and how he chose to take a move to the bullpen.

On one hand, he could have chosen to the path of sullenness, characterized by public trade demands and short exchanges with the media. On the other, he could be upbeat and feeling like he needs to go out and open up a can of whoop-ass every chance he gets. If the initial reviews are any indication — and I believe they are — Wood chose door #2.

For me, it wasn’t about Wood going out and earning the save on Saturday night, but about the way he addressed the situation publicly. Not that I would have expected him to be a punk, but it would have been very easy for him to fall back on platitudes. Instead, he seemed loose and fully possessed of his good humor, at one point joking about the move being a result of his flagging hitting.

Then again, why shouldn’t he be a little loose about it? After all, this move to the ‘pen might be as much a relief for Wood himself as it was for the legions of fans who’d been calling for it for weeks. I doubt he pays a great deal of attention to all the same sources we do here on the outside, but he wasn’t oblivious to the signs that his time in the rotation was drawing nigh. Now that he’s no longer waiting for the other cleat to drop, maybe it’ll free him up psychologically.

It’s no secret that Wood has struggled mightily since a break-out 2013 season that saw him emerge as an All-Star and a potential front-line starter for the Cubs. But as I laid out the other day, much of that success may have been built upon a mistake, making it nearly impossible to replicate. Perhaps a move to the ‘pen will shake things up a bit and more frequent appearances will help Wood’s performance.

His fastball certainly seems to work better early on, as hitters have only a .197 BAA the first time through the lineup, but put up a .243 by the third time through. As I noted in that earlier piece, Wood’s best season came when his “cutter” behaved more like a two-seamer, so perhaps he can work to develop that pitch a bit more (he doesn’t throw one at all, according to Brooks Baseball). He’s come to grips with this new role, why not do the same with a new grip? Or an old one.

According to Brooks, Wood’s curveball is nearly unhittable (.105 BAA) by the third time through the lineup but is an absolute softball (.357) during the first go-round. The pitch takes up less than 4% of his total offerings though, so it’s not as if we’re working with a large sample size here. At only 28, Wood isn’t really in the old-dog-new-tricks realm yet; could some development of the curve and an increase in usage help him?

I don’t know the answer to that, though I do understand that you can’t just look at a chart on the effectiveness of a given pitch and then tell a guy he should use it more. Then again, it’s not like this is a pitch he doesn’t throw already and the general trends seem to show that he needs to get a feel for it throughout the game. More use equals better feel, Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt — reborn Travis Wood.

Talk of his actual pitching aside, I do think this move actually helps to Maddonize the lefty a bit more, which is to say that he’s now more versatile as a bullpen arm. Wood is a good enough athlete that he could remain in the game as a left fielder in given situations or could pinch hit for the guy he’s going to replace the next inning in order to save a position player. Call me crazy, but I think this could end up being a really good move for both Wood and the Cubs.

After all, things worked out really well the last time they moved an under-performing starter into the bullpen. Oh wait…


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