With Lance Lynn finding a new home with the Minnesota Twins, and talk of Jake Arrieta himself signing soon (thank you Phillies), that leaves us with Alex Cobb. The Cardinals rotation is “set”, with 5 guys already penciled in to start, and others waiting in the wing. The concern for the Cardinals is the question marks surrounding their rotation (honestly, what team doesn’t?). While spring training is no indicator of how one’s season will go, Miles Mikolas struggled early. They expect him to replace Lynn’s innings. The Cardinals also can’t rely on Wainwright for much these days. Some of the talented prospect arms could also use more development. For this I want to show others how worthwhile Cobb could be.
Who is Alex Cobb?
Alexander Miller Cobb was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Devil Rays. He is a 30 year old born in Boston and raised in Florida. He had been a part of the Rays’ rotation since 2012 and only missed most of 2015/2016 to surgery. A qualifying offer was on the table for him and he declined the one year, 17.4 million offer from the Rays. He now has a draft pick attached to him. He declined a 3/42 offer from the Cubs prior to signing Yu Darvish.
What’s to Like?
Cobb is just… good. He doesn’t walk very many hitters, with a career 2.2 BB/9 rate so he has excellent control of his pitches. In 2017 he pitched to an ERA of 3.66, worth 2.3 war (wins above replacement). What makes Cobb different from most other starters is that he doesn’t rely upon a fastball at all. He threw one just 0.7% of the time in 2017. When he does throw his fastball it generally sits in the 92-93 range and typically catches hitters off guard. His arsenal consists of a sinker, splitter and a wicked curveball he throws with a knuckle grip.
His curve has nasty vertical movement on it, following a 12-6 motion. It drops down on hitters like a hammer, very difficult to make contact with. This is considered his secondary pitch and is tremendously useful at both strikeouts/groundballs. This chart via Baseball Savant shows just how hard it was to make good contact with his knuckle curve.
His splitter on the other hand paired with his sinker (primary) has led to him accumulating a career 54% ground ball rate. He was among the league leaders in this category. He has strong downward movement, causing hitters to pound the ball into the ground when they do make contact.
When pitchers move from the AL to the NL, it has generally been a successful transition, even productive. Without having to face the DH (and the brutal AL East offenses), Cobb should improve further on his 2017 season. Due to a failing market around him. we could sign Cobb to a one year deal.
Cobb has a well documented injury history. Not once has Cobb pitched a full season. Just this season he marked a career high in innings, 179.1 vs 166.1 in 2014. It’s not as bad as it seems, in 2013 he was stopped by a line drive to his skull. In 2014 he dealt with an oblique strain. His TJ surgery that offseason would ruin the next two seasons for Cobb, limiting him to five starts.
Cobb’s strikeout and homerun rates trended in the wrong direction compared to his 2012-2014 seasons. While the home run rate can be attributed to the increasing amount of home runs across the majors, it cannot be ignored. It wasn’t until his final seven starts that he showed improvements in strikeouts. He reached a career low mark in swStr% (Strikes swung on and missed) with a 6.7%, well below his career average. This is due to the decline in his splitter.
Cobb just wasn’t getting as many whiffs/swings on his splitter as he did earlier in his career, as illustrated in the chart above. He had to make some changes to his delivery (vertical) after the surgery and lost deceptiveness. While Cobb pitched to a very good ERA, he outperformed it, with a 4.16 FIP this season. This has never been a common occurrence in his career and so he got a bit lucky.
I believe Cobb improved mightily in the second half (last 7 starts) to where he’s an upgrade to the rotation. I think he has it in him to keep up that performance. Is he worth the draft pick is a different story. No I don’t believe he is, considering the Cards can use all the picks they can get following their 2017 draft penalties. Yet I do believe he does move the needle in terms of taking the Central in 2018 and enhances the rotation overall.
Thanks to @cardinalgifs on Twitter for hooking me up with Cobb gifs. Info from Baseball Savant, FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball.