The CCO Feedback column returns for a Tuesday afternoon edition. Here is an article from one of the Faithful, Raul Barraza, with his thoughts on Kerry Wood and his role in the upcoming season.
I’m going to come out and say it, I’m a huge Kerry Wood fan. I have nothing but respect for him. I became a Cub fan around his MLB debut and planned my day so I was free to see him pitch. Most fans remember the ’98 season for Sosa’s homeruns, but I bet most got interested in the ’98 Cubs the moment Wood struck out his twentieth Astro batter. The potential for greatness was there but it was not meant to be.
Expectations were high for this Texas fireballer and for good reason.
In his fifth start in the big leagues, Wood joined a select group of pitchers that have thrown 20 k’s in a game. His electrifying rookie season culminated in him winning the Rookie of the Year award and leading the bigs in K/9.
Unfortunately, he had logged some serious innings by this point in his career. Only days after being the fourth overall pick in the draft, he pitched both ends of a doubleheader. This led to a 175-pitch day for Kid K. To put this in even more perspective, the Mariners had King Felix on a sub-100 pitch count and barred him from using his slider and minimized his use of his breaking pitches. At the same age Kerry was having 175 pitch days, Felix Hernandez was barely allowed to have those many pitches over two starts. The abuse didn’t stop at high school. Wood had a game in his rookie year where he threw 133 pitches in late August before being shutdown for “elbow soreness.” His manager, Jim Riggleman, let him throw 120 pitches or more 8 times in his rookie campaign. He was fighting for his job and abused his best weapon, Wood. He even had the audacity to bring Wood back to pitch a meaningless game 3 after already being down 2-0. All this led to Tommy John surgery.
After coming back from surgery. Wood was mostly pain free for 3 years. This culminated in him having a dominating 2003 season under Dusty Baker. Baker was not any better at handling Wood than Riggleman. During 2003, Wood ranked second in pitches per start. Who was in front of Wood? Mark Prior, but that’s another tale for a different day. Wood averaged 111 pitches per start. Baker let Wood exceed 100 pitches 24 times. After his great and overworked 2003, Wood started his downfall and so went his chances of recapturing his dominance as a starter.
I say as a starter because I believe he has all the tools to become a dominant closer. He has always been a power pitcher and has nasty stuff. Also, since he will only pitch one inning. He can rear back and get some extra life on his fastball. I would much rather face Ryan Dempster than Wood in the ninth. I’m the first to admit that Dempster did a respectable job as closer but I never felt comfortable with him closing. Not as uncomfortable as I felt when LaTroy Hawkins closed but still not too comfortable. The closer is a position that should make the opposing batter not want to face him, even cause some uneasiness. All the great closers cause this feeling, Mariano Rivera, Billy Wagner, and even the young Jonathan Papelbon. Wood would definitely cause this feeling with his +95 MPH heat and knee-buckling curve. Dempster in the rotation might not be for the best other than to keep the spot warm until a prospect emerges to claim the spot. With Wood closing this lets Carlos Marmol be the set up man and pitch the Cubs out of tough spots. That is where his value as a pitcher is at the most beneficial for the club. If Wood were to be the closer, his arm would he saved for those situations and thus kept fresh for the long haul. Even if he fails, he could always switch roles with Marmol. All I’m saying is that he deserves a shot to close.
The reason Wood is still a Cub is due to his loyalty to the organization that has stood by him through all the injuries. Instead of bolting for the highest bidder, Wood opted to stay with the Cubs and signed another 1-year deal with the club. He feels he owes the team for all his injury riddled years and the fans for all the promise he dangled in front of them only to leave it unfulfilled. In this day and age, it is rare for a professional athlete to admit he owes something to an organization. Mark Prior could not wait to get out of Chicago and signed a 1-year deal with the Padres. While all this makes him my favorite Cub of all time, his skills are what make him the best option to close for the 2008 Cubs.