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Alex Cobb has a chance to be one in the line of impressive arms developed by the Rays the past decade. He was well on his way to joining the pantheon of Rays' starters after an impressive 2013 campaign but injury and poor performance at times in 2014 have caused the bandwagon to lose folks on a weekly basis. Should you let the train sail by or should you buy a ticket and jump on as soon as you can?
2011: Cobb made nine starts in his first taste of the big leagues. His ratios (3.43 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) and record (3-2) were decent. However he only struck out 6.32 batters per nine and his walk rate was elevated at 3.59 per nine.
2012: Made 23 starts going 11-9. Unfortunately his ERA climbed above four at 4.03 to mitigate some of the excitement. He did tick down his WHIP to 1.25 while his K/9 rate went up to 7.00. Most intriguing was the nearly full batter he lopped off his walk rate from the previous season (2.64 per nine).
2013: Was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the better pitchers in the AL when he suffered a concussion when he was hit with a batted ball on June 15th. He was able to make 22 starts overall and impressed with a 2.76 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.41 K/9 mark and 2.98 K/BB ratio (2.83 BB/9).
2014: He made three starts before hitting the DL with an oblique issue. He's made 12 starts with a 4.28 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.92 K/9 and 2.86 BB/9.
As you've been able to glean from the above, Cobb possesses the goods to be an upper level arm in the big leagues. Over the last two years Cobb has made 34 starts covering 212.2 innings. That's about the level that the elite arms go over a full season. How does Cobb stack up? He's gone 15-9 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 8.25 K/9 and 2.91 K/BB ratio. Compare those numbers to those of Mat Latos last season: 14-9, 3.16 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.99 K/9, 3.22 K/BB ratio. That should help to put into perspective the type of work that Cobb has posted since the start of last season. The point is that only injury has precluded Cobb from truly breaking out.
'But Ray, how could you be so high on a guy who has a 4.28 ERA this season?' I reject this question as invalid. ERA is a poor way to discern how a pitcher has or will perform. I know that my loyal followers know that so I'm going to assume that made up quote is from someone who is visiting BaseballGuys for the first time. If you want to stay on the ERA path there are two measures that attempt to speak to ERA in a more refined manner. SIERA and xFIP speak to the things that happen on the field that the pitcher can control, and they also include some normalization as well to remove some of the outlying factors a pitcher might be dealing with. The bottom line is that SIERA and xFIP are better gauges of how a pitcher has and will perform than ERA. So two sets of numbers for Cobb.
2014: 3.49 SIERA, 3.59 xFIP
Career: 3.49 SEIRA, 3.41 xFIP
What those two measures suggest is that Cobb has pitched, basically, the same as he always has. Given that his career ERA is 3.54 you should feel pretty confident that his 4.28 mark this season will recede as the innings piled up.
There's one significant point I've yet to mention about Cobb, an it's yet another reason why I'm bullish on his second half outlook. What do I always say – give me strikeouts and grounders and I'll show you a guy I want on my squad. That sound about right? Over his last 34 starts Cobb owns an 8.25 K/9 mark. Give him 190 innings at that rate and you end up with 174 strikeouts. That will play, right? So Cobb has the strikeouts. Does he have the grounders too? You bet he does. For his career Cobb owns an impressive 56.5 percent ground ball rate. For perspective, there were only two men in baseball in 2013 who threw at least 162 innings and matched that mark: Justin Masterson (58.0) and A.J. Burnett (56.5). Maybe I should replace impressive with “elite.” You pretty much can't help but to have success if you're forcing batters to pound the ball into the ground so frequently. There's no reason to think that Cobb won't be able to have success with his stuff being frequently down in the zone.
One final note. Unlike a lot of hurlers who feature two pitches and mess around with a third or fourth, Cobb throws three pitches with a rather impressive breakdown. This season he's thrown his fastball 43 percent of the time, his change up 33 percent of the time and his curve ball 24 percent of the time. The ability to throw any of his pitches at any point in the count is also a nice booster to his value since batters obviously cannot sit on one pitch.
10 team lg: On the cusp of ownable. I would personally try very hard find a spot on my roster for him, but it's possible that you may not be able to. Boy do I dislike shallow leagues.
12 team lg: Well worth rostering though you might consider sitting him for a bit given that he's had a 5.38 ERA over his last 38.2 innings.
15 team lg: A perfect trade for target. A perfect have patience and sit on option if you own him.
AL-only: I would be all over this guy in this format. Explore adding him. If someone treats him like he's a 4.28 ERA hurler, pounce on that uninformed owner an add Cobb.