MESA, Ariz. -- Let the battle for the No. 5 starter begin.
The Chicago Cubs have three candidates for one spot -- lefties Travis Wood and Tsuyoshi Wada and righty Edwin Jackson. Wood and Jackson are coming off down years while Wada was a pleasant surprise after being called up from Triple-A Iowa last season.
Only two of three are likely to make the team as the bullpen doesn’t have room for two long relievers and neither of the left-handers are serious candidates for late-inning specialist. Right now, the favorite for the rotation has to be Wood, he’s one year removed from being an All-Star, but little went right in 2014 when his ERA ballooned to 5.03. That was third worst in baseball among qualified starters.
“Last year was a big learning year,” Wood said Sunday morning before workouts. “I always say you learn more when you fail than when you succeed because you see your flaws better. (Going) into 2014, I was like ‘All right I got it, I know how to do it’. It was a humbling experience last year that you never ‘get it’ in this game.”
Some of Wood’s peripheral numbers could suggest a little bit of a bounce-back year. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Wood’s fielding independent of pitching (FIP) ERA was 4.38, 0.65 lower than his actual ERA. It was the seventh highest difference in baseball. FIP measures performance using only strikeouts, walks and home runs, discounting several things out of a pitcher’s control. Wood’s numbers indicate some unluckiness: he had a good amount of balls stay in the ballpark but fall in for hits avoiding his fielders. And his hard-hit average (.153) ranked 48th, so it wasn’t like he was giving up line drives all over the place.
And there’s one more encouraging thing for Wood: he has two catchers who are experts at pitch-framing.
“I do think a guy that nibbles on the edges a little bit, that can help that guy a little more,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.
Wood isn’t a “stuff” guy as much as he is a placement pitcher. Better command with new catchers should get him some more calls and put him in more pitcher-friendly counts.
“You enjoy getting a call that sometimes you wouldn’t,” Wood said. “You could say I was just missing or it was mechanics but I chalked it up to a bad year.”
The bottom line is, like Jackson last year, Wood deserves the chance to rebound.
“I think we focus on what just happened instead of his body of work,” Hoyer said.
More than likely, unless there’s a spring injury, the Cubs will deal one of the three pitchers before the regular season begins. Wood might be the most attractive considering his past accomplishments and salary.
“If I get traded, I get traded,” he said. “It’s part of the business. If it helps the team, it helps the team. I don’t look too much into it.”
Both Jackson and Wood are saying the right things about helping the team in any way they can right now. What else can they say after dismal seasons? For Wood, it’s been one good followed by one bad. He was asked how he gets “it” back.
“With work,” Wood responded. “Getting back to basics. Attacking the zone, getting some early outs, some early strikes and pitching ahead.”