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Jake Woodford Revisited

Last year, I wrote about the changes Jake Woodford made. Now, I am taking another look at him to see if he has committed to those changes.

MLB: Game Two-St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Jake Woodford came on strong down the stretch for the St. Louis Cardinals. It appears that history is repeating itself this year. The difference is that last season, Woodford thrived in the rotation while this season he’s been a bullpen ace.

Okay, fine. “Bullpen ace” may be a bit of a stetch. But maybe not. He does have a 2.10 ERA and can pitch in a variety of situations. Need one inning? Need three innings? Need a spot start? Woodford doesn’t care. He’s done it all. He’s not a guy that many people predicted would be a key part of the bullpen, but he is earning his spot right now.

Is Woodford a 2 ERA kinda guy? Probably not. And by probably, I mean almost definitely. Still, he’s been effective and he deserves credit for that.

In September of last year, when Woodford was pitching well, I wrote an article detailing the changes that he had made. Now, with him continuing to pitch well, I want to look back at what I said and see if it’s still holding up.

When I wrote the piece last year, I hypothesized that the changes he made could have turned him into a viable MLB pitcher. Now with him having success, I want to find out if he stuck with his transformation.

Basically, has Woodford committed to the changes he made last year or is he still tweaking? Let’s find out.

The Changes

An article like this must start with a recap of the changes that Woodford made last year. Let me give you the highlights of my article a year ago.

More Sinkers

In 2020, Jake Woodford threw 156 four-seam fastballs. It was his most-used pitch and far exceeded his 8.1% sinker usage. That all changed in 2021 when Woodford’s sinker became his primary offering. It’s usage rate jumped to nearly 37% while his four-seam rate dropped to just over 22%.

The two pitches has similar results (.312 sinker wOBA vs. .310 four-seam wOBA) but Woodford’s sinker had a higher xwOBA (.356 vs .302) and his four-seamer allowed a higher exit velocity (91.1 mph vs 90.1 mph).

New Slider

Jake Woodford threw his slider 26.4% of the time in 2020. It was his second most used pitch and it allowed just a .270 wOBA. It seemed like a pitch that he trusted and a pitch that got decent results, so why change it?

Well, it also allowed a .378 xwOBA and a 91.4 mph average exit velocity. It may have gotten good results in 67 23 innings, but it almost certainly wasn’t going to keep getting good results.

So, what did Woodford do? Look at the table to find out.

Woodford’s Slider

Year Velocity (mph) V Movement (in) H Movement (in) Spin-Based Spin Direction Observed Spin Direction
Year Velocity (mph) V Movement (in) H Movement (in) Spin-Based Spin Direction Observed Spin Direction
2020 84.4 39.8 3.9 9:30 8:00
2021 82.2 42.8 11.7 8:00 8:15

The pitch went from looking like this...

to looking like this...

That’s no accidental change. It’s slower with more sweep, more drop, and a different spin direction. To the eye, it looks a lot nastier but movement isn’t everything. Sometimes hard, late break can be better than slower sweeping action, but his slider looked a whole lot better after the change.

I can sit here and speculate all I want but the ultimate test comes against hitters. If they can’t hit it, then it’s probably better.

The problem is that it didn’t have better results. The new slider allowed a .303 wOBA, which was a good deal higher than the .270 wOBA allowed by the old slider. Here’s the thing, though. The peripherals were way better. The average exit velocity against the pitch was 87.2 mph (4 mph softer) and the xwOBA against the pitch was .275 (103 points lower).

That’s a promising change even if the on-field results didn’t improve much. Later in the article, we’ll see if those results have gotten better this year.

Lefty/Righty Strategy

Woodford had a distinct strategy last year. He had five offerings - sinker, four-seam, curveball, slider, and changeup, and he threw three of them to lefties and two of them to righties.

Specifically, Woodford was sinker/slider heavy against same-sided hitters and four-seamer/curveball/changeup heavy against hitters with a platoon advantage.

Last year, Woodford threw 623 pitches against right-handed hitters. Over 75% of those pitchers were either sinkers or sliders.

The other three pitches were used more often against left-handers than against right-handers.

This approach was justified by the results, at least for his sinker. Three of the four home runs that Woodford allowed against his sinker were hit by left-handed hitters despite the fact that Woodford only thew fewer than 13 of his sinkers to left-handed hitters.

Has Woodford kept this same strategy? I’ll take a look at that later in the piece.


I’ll discuss each of these in order. Let’s look at the fastballs first.

Woodford has committed to the change. In fact, he’s throwing the exact same percentage of four-seamers as he did last year (22.3%) while increasing his sinker usage by 1%.

The change is that both pitches have actually been more effective this season.

Woodford Fastballs

Pitch Year wOBA xwOBA Exit Velocity (mph) Whiff Rate (%) GB Rate (%)
Pitch Year wOBA xwOBA Exit Velocity (mph) Whiff Rate (%) GB Rate (%)
Sinker 2021 0.312 0.356 90.1 15.5 46.7
Sinker 2022 0.265 0.323 89.3 13.9 66.1
Four-Seamer 2021 0.310 0.302 91.1 16.4 43.2
Four-Seamer 2022 0.203 0.298 85.2 16.4 33.3

One of the easiest things to notice is the gap between the wOBAs and xwOBAs of these pitches. It’s easy to say they are overperforming, and that may even be fair, but let’s look at it another way.

Let’s say that the wOBAs of these pitches rise to the level of their xwOBAs. .323 and .298 aren’t bad at all. Combined that’s solid fastball production and it’s definitely better than it was last year.

The point here, though, is that the sinker is still Woodford’s primary pitch. Should that change? Maybe,. I mean, his four-seamer has been the better pitch. Still, I have a hard time believing that a 92 mph four-seamer with below average movement and spin is that good of a pitch.

He doesn’t get many whiffs with the pitch and he doesn’t get many chases at all. In fact his four-seamer’s chase rate of 16.7% is well below his sinker’s chase rate of 36.3%.

Now, keep in mind that this is a 34 13 inning sample, but I think I would still choose the sinker over the four-seamer. A pitch that doesn’t get whiffs or chases is not typically a successful pitch. It’s not like he can even rely on movement to generate weak contact.

I am fine with Woodford throwing the sinker more and letting it set up the four-seamer. The sinker at least gets chases and ground balls. We’ll see which pitch ends up being the better one at the end of the year.

Now let’s take a look at the slider. This is a key pitch for Woodford. It’s his primary breaking ball and his most trusted secondary offering. He needs it to be effective.

And, boy, has it been effective. Remember, this is a pitch that got worse but had much better peripherals after it gained more sweeping action last year.

This year, the pitch has allowed just a .206 wOBA. Now you might be thinking that there may be a big difference between the pitch’s wOBA and xwOBA allowed, just like there is with Woodford’s fastballs.

If that’s what you were thinking then you would be wrong. Woodford’s slider has just a .203 xwOBA this year. It has also allowed an exit velocity below 84 mph, a barrel rate of just 4.3% and a hard hit rate of 21.7%.

It’s not a pitch that misses a ton of bats (25.4% whiff rates) but hitters have had a tough time barreling it. That’s basically Jake Woodford in a nutshell. Or, at least, the ideal version of Jake Woodford.

It’s not the same slider as it was last year, though, because it’s actually added even more movement while keeping the same velocity. It now has an extra half inch of drop and an extra inch of sweep.

So, not only has Woodford committed to this change, but he’s doubled down on it.

Finally, we get to Woodford’s strategy against lefties and righties. This strategy is not the same as it was last year. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The main reason why is because Woodford is throwing fewer curveballs and more sliders. Last year, Woodford’s curveball was the primary breaking ball against lefties. This year, it’s the pitch he’s thrown the least against lefties.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because his curveball got hammered last year. In fact, he’s probably better off throwing fewer curveballs. Even though the pitch has had better results this year, it’s still being hit hard and has a .378 xwOBA.

He’s also thrown his four-seamer and his sinker equally as often against left-handers. It was pretty close to 50/50 last year with the two fastballs, but lefties did see more four-seamers from Woodford. That’s another change.

The reason for the change seems to simply be a result of his role. The fact that Woodford has exclusively been a reliever this year means that he can absolutely get away with three pitches as a reliever. He made a few 3 inning outings and made a spot start, but 29 of his 36 13 innings have come as a reliever.

Last year, more than half of his innings came as a starter. He can now simplify his arsenal and using a struggling pitch less is a great way to start.

The fact that he’s being used in the bullpen seems to also have limited his opportunities against left-handed hitters. He doesn’t need to turn over a lineup multiple times now (though he has done that), so he can enter the game to face a sequence of right-handed htiters.

That also means that he can get away with throwing fewer “lefty” pitches. His lefty pitches are his curveball and his changeup and those are the two he has thrown the least and the pitches he’s thrown less than he did last year.

He hasn’t stayed the same with his strategy, but his changes have largely been caused by his permanent bullpen role in the majors. That’s not an issue.


Last year, I felt like Woodford turned a corner after he made a series of changes. After I wrote my last article on Woodford I became excited to watch him pitch this year. I wanted to see if his changes were able to turn him into a viable arm.

That’s part of why I was frustrated when Woodford was forgotten about earlier this year, Now that he’s holding down a regular role in the bullpen, we’ve been able to get some numbers to analyze.

And the numbers say that Woodford is the same as he was last year. The numbers also say that Woodford is pretty good. He has a 2.10 ERA and 3.38 FIP this year after posting a 3.99 ERA and 4.50 FIP last year.

What’s even better is that Woodford showed some improvement in Triple-A this year. That’s another encouraging sign. The problem is that his 4.49 xFIP isn’t great and that’s because his home run rate is completely unsustainable (0.26 HR/9). He’s also benefiting from a .248 BABIP.

I should point out that his career BABIP is .268 in 123 career innings, but I don’t think he’s the kind of pitcher that can sustain a low BABIP. He gives up a ton of contact and his stuff isn’t exceptional. That doesn’t feel like a low BABIP pitcher.

It’s been great to watch Woodford continue to be effective but I don’t think he’s as good as his ERA and FIP indicate. The home run and batted ball luck are unlikely to continue long term.

Regardless, Woodford has improved. I think that’s pretty clear. His new slider is effective and his four-seamer/slider combination has been good. He looks like a much better pitcher than we saw in 2020 and a much better pitcher than he was in Memphis in 2019.

Now the question becomes, how good is he really? I think he can be a high-3s/low-4s ERA kind of arm. I like the slider. I don’t think his fastballs are that good but they mirror each other’s spin perfectly and the results have been pretty good.

He lack of bat missing ability is a red flag, but he shouldn’t be expected to turn into a high-end reliever or key starter. Rather, I think he can hold down a long relief role or some kind of non-high-leverage role in the bullpen.

It’s been good to see him double-down on his changes. I think those changes have turned him into a viable MLB arm for a contending team.

Thank you all for reading! I know I shorted you all on Sunday but shoutout to Jason for posting an open thread.