Baseball season is upon us, and the AL East is as competitive as ever. Any of the five teams could legitimately win 90 or more games, making it the most formidable division in Major League Baseball. I’ll be going position by position on a daily basis, analyzing how the Rays are situated heading into the season, and how they compare to the rest of the division at each spot. Today, lets take a look at the #4 pitcher on the Rays pitching staff.
For many teams it is a luxury to be able to have four legitimate starting pitchers. The Rays have 7-8 pitchers that could slide into the rotation and not look out of place. Alex Cobb doesn’t get much respect from the Rays fanbase, but he certainly does from the Rays organization, as they have already made it clear his spot in the rotation is safe. Cobb reminds me of James Shields earlier in his career based on his repertoire.
Cobb features a fringe-average fastball in terms of velocity. He doesn’t need to be pinpoint with his fastball, as long as he can keep it down in the zone. Cobb generates strong sink action on his fastball, which leads to an excellent groundball rate. Strong groundball rates lead to less extra base hits, and better run prevention. His bread and butter is a “swing and miss” changeup. This is an excellent pitch that keeps hitters off balance and allows Cobb to maintain a solid strikeout rate. Cobb’s curveball is a nice offering, as it shows sharp downward bite. It is an underrated part of his arsenal, but is one more pitch a hitter must be concerned with.
For all the talk of Chris Archer, Cobb has a better resume throughout his minor league career. At the AA level, Cobb had 18% more strikeouts with 50% less walks when compared to Archer. In AAA, they had roughly the same strikeout rate, but with 35% less walks. Clearly, Archer has better pure stuff, but Cobb has outperformed him at every level. While Archer’s “ceiling” may be higher, Cobb has a higher “likely performance”. Cobb’s success didn’t stop in the minor leagues.
With an ERA of 3.86 in 189 innings pitched at the MLB level, Cobb has shown he belongs in the Rays rotation. Cobb battled offseason surgery and some bad luck in 2012. His LOB%, as well as some other peripheral stats, indicate he could be prime for a bounce back season.
How do the Rays rank at this position compared to the rest of the American League East?
- Mark Buehrle Toronto
- Alex Cobb Tampa Bay
- Miguel Gonzalez Baltimore
- Phil Hughes Yankees
- Felix Doubront Red Sox
Mark Buehrle returns from a year hiatus from the American League, and is still, strikingly, the same pitcher he has been throughout his career. Buehrle is a workhorse that will give you 200+ innings pitched and an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00. Those pitchers are quite valuable, especially when you can slot them #4 in your rotation. How will the AL East and age treat him this season? Miguel Gonzalez burst onto the scene for the Orioles in 2012. Although he only threw 105 innings, he finished 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA. If the Orioles want to compete again this season, they’ll need more where that came from. Phil Hughes was an All Star in 2010, but since then he has battled injuries and ineffectiveness. With all of the question marks surrounding the Yankees, they will need Hughes to revert back to 2010 form. Felix Doubront fit in well with the 2012 Red Sox. High expectations and he crashed and burned.
I’m a big believer in Alex Cobb. What’s not to like? He generates a ton of groundballs and strikes out his fair share of batters. He must stay healthy, as 2012 was by far a career high in innings pitched. It will be interesting to see if Cobb has toyed with a cutter, as every other Rays pitcher has done in recent years. Cobb is entering Stage Three of his progression as a professional pitcher, and he would benefit greatly from this step.
My prediction for Alex Cobb in 2013: 16-9 3.65ERA 190IP 145K 55BB