What's with Travis Wood's new strikeout rate?

Travis Wood is racking up the strikeouts. (USATSI)
Travis Wood is racking up the strikeouts. (USATSI)

Cubs pitcher Travis Wood has generally been a below-average option in Fantasy leagues. He broke out with a solid 3.11 ERA last season, but Wood doesn't typically have a high upside. The main reason for that has been his weak strikeout rate. Wood has struck out slightly less than seven hitters per nine innings over his career, under the normal rate for Fantasy pitchers. This season, though, he's struck out close to a batter per inning. Should owners buy the new Travis Wood?

Not quite yet. It's clear Wood has made some progress, particularly with his walk rate. Over the past three seasons, he's lowered it from 8.3 percent to 6.4 percent. That's fairly significant, given the type of pitcher he is, and part of the reason he's been more effective the past two years. So, he does deserve some credit for improving in that area. 

While the elevated strikeout rate has been nice, there's no evidence to suggest it will last just yet. Wood isn't working with increased velocity, and has not utilized an altered approach on the mound yet. He's throwing all his pitches at roughly the same rate as he did last year. Wood is actually getting a better swinging strike rate, though it's been a tiny uptick (from 7.7 percent to 8.0 percent). Some of his offerings have a higher whiff rate, but it's unclear if that's just due to small sample issues. 

The underlying numbers still look good. Wood may have a 4.75 ERA, but his 3.42 FIP indicates that he's pitched much better than that early on. Part of the reason for the discrepancy is Wood's .341 BABIP. Once that drops, he should see some improvement in his ERA. 

Due to his low upside, and high ERA right now, Wood is owned in 61 percent of CBSSports.com leagues. While he's due for some improvement, he's still not a player owners should rush out an pick up. Wood has made progress the last three seasons, and he deserves credit for that. While he's getting more strikeouts, it's unclear if he'll continue to do that. Even if he does set a new high in the category, it may not be good enough to suddenly make him an above-average option. Wood is a good example of a guy owners should put on their watch lists. If he starts to see some improvement in his ERA, and his peripherals remain solid as we approach June, he could be worth a pickup. For now, let's take a wait and see approach.

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