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Travis Wood may or not be for real

5/14/2013

I made a quick point about Cubs starter Travis Wood in an earlier post. As Jedi Johnson points out on the View From the Bleachers blog, Wood has eight quality starts in eight chances this year and while he's topped 100 pitches just twice, he's still averaging over six innings per start.

Look, Wood isn't going to sustain a 2.03 ERA. His batting average allowed is .169 and his average on balls in play is .189, which is historically unsustainable. The question: How much will he regress? I heard Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette discussing Wood on MLB Network Radio this morning and Mike made a great point on how Wood survives even though he throws few offspeed pitches. Indeed, according to ESPN Stats & Info date, of the 766 pitches Wood has thrown this year, 295 have been fastballs and 275 cut fastballs -- 74 percent of his total pitches. Wood has a changeup that he thrown about four times per game and a slider he throws a little more frequently, neither of which is considered more than an average pitch. He's basically a fastball/cutter guy.

Mike and Jim wondered if he could succeed with this repertoire (and thought he could). Conventional wisdom certainly suggests this will be difficult, that starters need to mix in some sort of effective offspeed weapon. I thought: Mariano Rivera has made a pretty nice living throwing almost one pitch exclusively. No, I'm not comparing Wood to Rivera, but why can't Wood make this work? Why can't he be some lesser version of Rivera, just for six or seven innings at a time instead of one?

Reds rookie Tony Cingrani, off to a 2-0, 2.89 ERA in five starts, with 37 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 innings, is another lefty relying on fastballs. He's thrown 493 pitches -- and 412 fastballs (84 percent). He doesn't throw a cutter, but merely changes speeds and has more velocity than Wood. Like Wood, there is some deception in the delivery and he's a flyball pitcher (which leads to a lower BABIP).

I don't know how good Wood is, and he's never going to be a workhorse with his slight stature. But I think there's a good chance he's developing into a solid mid-rotation starter, one who will beat the 4.17 ERA he posted in 2012.