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The Secret World of Alex Cobb

No, Alex Cobb was never involved in a chemical spill, doused in a secret formula and thus given special powers, however that doesn’t stop him from being just as entertaining to watch as an old school Nickelodeon show.

As per Zach Sanders’ end of season rankings, Cobb finished just outside the top 30 for starting pitchers, coming in at number 32. If rate stats alone awarded position, Cobb certainly would have finished higher. A come-back line drive and subsequent concussion forced him to miss two months of the season and limited him to a mere 143.1 innings. Even in a shortened season, Cobb showed tremendous talent and fantasy value.

Cobb’s 2.76 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 3.02 xFIP, and 3.26 SIERA are all very impressive, but is that something that Cobb can sustain? Given his 81.4% LOB% as well as his 14.8% HR/FB% the answer is the same as the present author’s magic 8 ball when asked “Will I ever marry Alex Morgan?” The answer read as “My sources say no.” Ouch.

Cobb’s elevated home run rate according HR/FB — he rates as having the eighth highest HR/FB% among starers with at least 100 innings in 2013 — is something to keep an eye on. Of course, as a ground ball pitcher, career 56.7% GB%, the denominator of fly balls for him is lower than average. His 13 home runs allowed this season tie for 30th most, again with a 100 inning minimum. With a low raw home runs allowed total and an excellent career 0.73 HR/9 rate, this is a case of HR/FB% not being the ideal tool to judge a pitchers home runs allowed.

This season saw Cobb’s strikeout rate jump back up to levels he posted in the minor leagues. Prior to 2013, Cobb’s strikeout rate in the majors was below 20%. This year he jumped to over 23%, good for top 25 in the league. Below are two tables, compliments of BrooksBaseball.net, naturally, with separate date ranges. Cobb has apparently shifted his pitch selection from previous seasons.

March 1, 2011 through October 1, 2012:

Pitch Type Count Frequency Velocity
Fourseam 679 22.63% 91.44
Sinker 742 24.73% 91.17
Curve 550 18.33% 79.22
Split 1029 34.3% 85.72

March 1, 2013 through October 1, 2013:

Pitch Type Count Frequency Velocity
Fourseam 81 3.65% 91.35
Sinker 879 39.59% 91.72
Curve 523 23.56% 80.5
Split 737 33.2% 86.5

Cobb more or less stopped throwing his four-seamer and has opted to use his sinker much more often. Correlation does not equate causation, however 2013 saw Cobb posted the highest swinging strike rate, 9.7%, of his career as well both the lowest Contact% and Z-Contact% marks. Pitch classification may not 100% perfect, however even with error bars, Cobb has seemingly abandoned his four-seamer.

If he can maintain his ground ball rate — something that is plausible given his history and pitch repertoire — and continue to not allow dingers to hurt him, Cobb should find himself squarely in the top 30 starting pitchers come the end of the 2014 season. His time missed due to injuries didn’t involve a shoulder or elbow injury, so where others may see injury risk, the author sees opportunity.

*Final note, of the three Alex’s mentioned in this post, the author’s Alex rankings are as follows:
1. Alex Morgan
2. Alex Mack
3. Alex Cobb

Sorry Cobb, but hey, bronze ain’t bad.