A few weeks ago, Cubs manager Dale Sveum opined that his starter, Travis Wood, was the best pitcher in baseball. I am sure you chuckled to yourself when you first heard that, as did I. Then I said to myself, Sveum just gave him the kiss of death. The ride to regression will begin in his next start. Well, that didn't work out too well.
Here is what Wood has done so far this season: in 9 starts, he is 4-2 with a 2.24 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 4.58 xFIP, 0.93 WHIP and a 39-19 strikeout to walk rate in 60.1 innings of work. Wood does a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground, as he induces ground balls at a 39.5% clip, up from 34.3% in 2012. It appears his 12.7% HR/FB rate last season was an anomaly, as his 6.5% HR/FB rate this season is in line with his rates from 2010 (6.3%) and 2011 (6.7%).
But there are a few things that really stand out for me in recommending selling Wood now. First off, his strikeout rate, just 5.82 K/9, is down from his 6.87 K/9 in 2012. While his walks per nine are down slightly, from 3.12 BB/9 to 2.83 BB/9, the strikeout rate is a concern, especially since he pitches in a hitter friendly park.
Second, thus far in 2013, Wrigley Field has played as the worst pitchers parks in baseball, as the park improves run scoring by 47% according to ESPN's ball park factors. Yeah, so more runs are being scored at Wrigley than at Coors Field, Miller Park and other hitter-friendly parks. Should this trend in run scoring continue, Wood will certainly be the recipient of some bad outings, as a result.
Third, his BABIP sits at a tiny .193 right now, well below his career BABIP of .262 and his .244 in 2012. In fact, for all qualified starters, his .193 BABIP leads all of baseball. His name appears in the same company as Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Matt Moore and Hisashi Iwakuma at the top of the lowest BABIP allowed leaderboard over at FanGraphs. It doesn't seem right that he is mentioned in the same breath at Kershaw, Harvey and Moore, does it?
Fourth, his 82.0% strand rate is 10.1% above his career and 2012 strand rate of 71.9%, so one should expect some regression in the number of base runners he strands going forward. A reduction in stranded base runners results in more runs allowed and a higher ERA.
Finally, his line drive percentage allowed is just 14.4%, well below his career LD% of 20.9%. The low LD% has contributed to the low BABIP, which has an impact on his ERA. Line drives usually result in hits about 75% of the time, so as that rate improves, his BABIP will rise, and his ERA will follow.
All of this tells me that Travis Wood owners should try to find an owner looking for a starting pitcher and make an offer to deal him. What should you get for Wood in a deal? I would shoot high and go from there. Just don't ask for a top 25 hitter. Maybe ask for a Jose Altuve or Jimmy Rollins in return.