Mysteries abound in life. Weather is weird. Space is almost unfathomable. Alex Cobb being ignored or downplayed is one of the game’s greatest mysteries right now to me. For the life of me, I can not understand why more people don’t love Alex Cobb.
Chances are you at least have somewhat of an opinion towards Mr. Cobb, but I’m hoping to make you fall head over heels in love with him today. His fiance did. And then she got proposed to by a dolphin. So, he’s perfect off the field as well. Bastard.
I’ve written about Cobb recently, but I felt like doing it again after watching highlights online. I’ll sum up my previous article on Cobb in a few words: fantastic command, increasing strikeouts, groundball machine, split-finger to die for. Cobb’s road to where he is took a little time, but now that he’s here let’s see who he’s in the room with.
I took the Fangraphs’ leader board and set a minimum of 140 inning pitched – a number Cobb barely surpassed due to an errant line drive off of the bat of Eric Hosmer. I then removed every pitcher that did not strike out at least 20% of opposing batters, walk less than 9% of opposing batters, and generated groundballs at a rate above 50%. Those fives names are the only ones to accomplish that. There’s Felix Hernandez, who is the epitome of an ace. Stephen Strasburg, who some view as an underachiever, is there. A.J. Burnett – who turned the clock back, again – is as well. Then there are two relatively fresh faces – Cobb and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu was covered earlier here by one of my colleagues, so now’s a good time to read that, if you haven’t.
Back to Cobb, though. Despite the fact that his velocity has remained the same throughout his career, he was able to boost his strikeouts by a large margin last season. He was able to do that by boosting his swinging strike rate on his split-finger to a staggering 18.3%. League average is considered to be 14.9% – so he’s comfortably above average in that department. Aside from that, he doesn’t have another pitch that gets above league average swinging strikes. But, to combat that fact, he altered his pitch mix in order to maximize his ability to acquire punchouts.
His fourseam fastball was all but discontinued in favor of his sinker in 2013. His usage of his splitter came down a little, but instead of throwing more fastballs he continued the trend of deploying his curveball more frequently – especially in hitter’s counts.
Alex Cobb pitches backwards. And he does it often. He’ll throw his curveball on the first pitch without a second thought. And once he’s ahead or – better yet – has two strikes he’s throwing the splitter, which is nearly unhittable in those situations. When hitters were forced to be defensive and hit with two strikes against Cobb in 2013, they managed a paltry .136 average against his split-finger.
He’s able to hold hitters to those numbers because he absolutely buries the pitch down in the zone.
Even if a hitter makes contact, it’s going to be a weak groundball. It’s nearly impossible to get hurt on pitches that are that far under the zone. And when you consider how much downward movement he gets on the pitch, it’s damn near impossible to lay off as well.
Alex Cobb might not be the sexiest name in the room. Innings pitched haven’t been his strong suit to this point; although I’d argue that he can’t really help what happened last season. Cobb is currently the 27th pitcher off the board, on average, in NFBC drafts. I ranked him 21st earlier in the year, but I have since pushed him up a few spots.
Cobb’s division is tough, but his skills will play anywhere. I have no problem thinking that Cobb will be a top-20 starter in 2014. And perhaps even more if he can push his innings up near 200. When choosing between pitchers on draft day, I usually always side with underlying skills (GB rate, etc.). It’s tough to beat Cobb on those at the moment.