Series Preview: The Chicago Cubs visit Miller Park

Jonathan Daniel

The Cubs play the Brewers in a 3-game series over the weekend. What follows is loosely related to that topic.

I have a confession to make: I am absolutely terrified of the future Cubs. I have revealed this to Cub-fan friends and I think they have a hard time taking me seriously when I say it; that's the kind of pessimism that has been baked into their fanbase. But I'm serious. There's the loaded farm system, the smart front office, the huge monetary resources. The rest of the Central needs to take advantage of the Cubs playing doormat because this division is going to get a lot tougher and it's going to happen pretty soon.

But, for now, the Cubs are not particularly good. The rotation is reasonable but their lineup has, well... a couple of players who might be able to start for a contending team. They still only have 3 (or 4 depending on how you count Mike Olt) regulars under 25, so they're not turning things over to the young position players completely yet. Their plan is likely to hope a few of those veterans have big first halves and can fetch a few more prospects at the trade deadline. The aforementioned solid rotation, too, has not exactly been taken over by the youth movement either; Travis Wood is 27 and the rest of the starters are 29, 30, 30, and 31.

This Cubs squad feels a bit like the '04 Brewers. That was a pretty bad, veteran heavy team with a few pieces that was just wasting time until the prospect wave arrived. The current edition of the Cubs have a bit more young talent-- Anthony RizzoStarlin Castro, and Mike Olt in particular-- but aren't going to be finishing out of the NL Central cellar this year, either.

Friday, 7:10 PM Central at Miller Park: Matt Garza vs. Carlos Villanueva

I am going to fill you in on a fun fact that probably will not get brought up during the broadcast of Friday night's game. That fun fact is: Carlos Villaueva used to pitch for the Brewers, and Matt Garza used to pitch for the Cubs. They have switched teams! This concludes the fun fact.

Saturday, 6:10 PM Central at Miller Park: Travis Wood vs. Marco Estrada

About one year ago, our former overlord Kyle asked me to write up a scouting report on Travis Wood for a game preview. He was scheduled to pitch the finale of a Brewers/Cubs series, as I recall. After I wrote what I thought was a pretty nice scouting report, he was bumped back a day to avoid the righty-heavy Brewers because an off day allowed the Cubs to juggle the rotation, and the scouting report never saw the light of day. But I found it in the BCB drafts, and here it is, reproduced in full, and not updated with information from the rest of last year so to be honest I'm not too sure how much has changed:

Wood's Repitoire

Nearly 70% of Wood's pitches, historically, have been fastballs and cutters. He became much more reliant on the cutter last year, which is probably his best pitch. His other offspeed pitches are a slider, a changeup, and an occasional curveball. His straight fastballs average close to 90 miles per hour, so he's not exactly the stereotypical soft-tossing lefty. The hardest pitch he has ever thrown is about 94 mph.

Against Lefthanders

Like many lefties, Wood loses his changeup when when facing fellow lefties and uses it almost exclusively against right-handed batters. Just 3 out of the 576 pitches he has thrown to lefthanders since the beginning of last season have fallen into that category. He will throw a breaking pitch about 25% of the time against a lefty (a vast majority of which are sliders), a regular fastball about half the time, with the remainder being the cutter. With 2 strikes his fastball velocity rises to over 91 mph, but his relative pitch distribution is about the same.

Against Righthanders

The changeup becomes Wood's primary weapon to keep batters honest when facing hitters on the other side of the plate. He will throw a changeup about 15% of the time, and a slider or curve approximately 7%. The remaining ~78% are split about half and half between cutter and fastballs with varying movement, as pitch f/x classifies about 10% as 2-seamers, which well tend to move away from a right-handed batter from a lefty, in contrast with the cutter, which moves towards the hands. As with the lefties, his fastball velocity rises with 2 strikes but his pitch distribution stays about the same, so he doesn't have one reliant strikeout pitch, and is in fact somewhat unique in that he relies on his fastball so much with 2 strikes.

First Pitch Tendencies

Wood's overall first pitch profile is pretty similar to his overall selection, only slightly higher on the fastballs: ~80%. When he does throw a first-pitch breaking ball, he puts it in the zone a below-average amount, so he's not a guy you would necessarily want to be extremely aggressive against on the first pitch of an at-bat.

Is Travis Wood any good?

In a lot of ways Wood is your standard, mid rotation lefty. He's shown a track record of putting up about 6.5 K/9 : 3 BB/9, and his success in a given year is going to depend on how many home runs he gives up and how many batters he strands on base. He doesn't get very many swinging strikes, but he stays on the edges and outside the zone enough that he can be effective. But overall he's about a league-average guy, and that has value. He reminds me a lot of a Randy Wolf-type pitcher, a lefty who can strike a few guys out but will have his up years and down years, because that's what pitchers do. He pitched a good game against the Brewers his first time out in Chicago, giving up 2 runs in 6 and 1/3 innings with 6 strikeouts and 3 walks. In his career, however, he's given up a .324 wOBA against righties to a .272 against lefties, so he is the type of pitcher that the righty-heavy Brewer lineup is going to have to demolish this year if they are going to contend.

Sunday, 1:10 PM Central at Miller Park: Jason Hammel vs. Wily Peralta

I think Jason Hammel is one of the more forgettable pitchers in major league baseball. He has been around since 2006 and is just one of those guys who has never been on my radar for doing anything interesting. He reminds me of the classic mid-2000s Brewers bottom of the rotation starter who is just solidly mediocre.

I saw Jason Hammel start a game against the Brewers at Miller Park once, back in 2011. Here is the box score from that game. Hammel pretty much did what Hammel does in that start, he only struck out one batter but managed to give up 2 earned runs in just short of 7 innings. Classic Hammel. Anyways, the game was memorable not because of Jason Hammel but because the following things happened in that game:

- Casey McGehee hit a solo home run to tie the game in the bottom of the 8th

- The game went to extra innings

- Sergio Mitre, who was a Brewer pitcher at the time apparently, gave up an RBI triple to Seth Smith in the top of the 13th to give the Rockies the lead

- Yuniesky Betancourt hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 13th to tie the game

- Mike McClendon gave up an RBI single to Dexter Fowler in the top of the 14th

- Prince Fielder hit a 2-run, walkoff home run in the bottom of the 14th

Baseball! This has been your Cubs series preview.

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