At times, he is invisible member of the Rays’ rotation; however, Alex Cobb‘s recent performance – including Wednesday nights gem against the Blue Jays – demands more attention.
The sixth starter coming into the season, Cobb has filled in admirably for Jeff Niemann, who has missed the last three months recovering from a broken leg. Although his baseball card statistics and strikeout rate are rather pedestrian, Cobb’s solid walk rate and uncanny ability to keep the ball on the ground give him a firm foundation to stand on as a major-league starter.
Cobb has been up-and-down this season, but much like the staff around him, he has elevated his game as of late. Including his latest start against the Blue Jays, the right handed has allowed just five run in his last 21 innings. At the same time, he has struckout 16 batters, walked just one, and induced 23 groundball outs. Here is another fun fact about Cobb’s last three starts: he has hit nearly as many batters (three) as extra-base hits allowed (four).
Cobb throws three pitches: fastball, changeup, curveball. His usage rates follow the same order. That said, in his most recent starts, the right-hander has slightly decreased the usage of his fastball and changeup in favor of more breaking balls. This was the case once again versus Toronto.
The Jays saw 102 pitches from Cobb. The breakdown is as follows: 44 fastballs, 32 changeups, 26 curveballs. He had tremendous success with all three pitches, culminating in seven innings of one run ball. Of the 102 pitches thrown, 72 of them were strikes.
Much like James Shields, Cobb uses his changeup as his out-pitch. The off-speed pitch was responsible for 10 outs against Toronto, including five of his seven strikeouts. He threw his fastball for strikes, and to get a few groundballs outs, but it was his curveball that earned rave reviews from Rays’ manager Joe Maddon after the game
“He had an outstanding curveball” said Maddon. “That was the best curve I’ve seen all year from any of our pitchers.” Cobb said it was his best curveball of the year, adding” I was able to throw it for a strike when I wanted and out of the zone when I wanted.” “It had some good bite to it. ”
As mentioned Cobb threw 26 hooks against the Jays – a season high. The breaking ball was not just a change of pace pitch, but a strike generator. Nineteen of the 26 curveballs he threw went for a strike, including several on the first pitch. In total, Cobb threw 12 first-pitch curveballs with nine of them strikes. This included six called strikes. “That was a big league curveball” said Maddon.
With the pitching 2.0 flowing, Cobb kept the Jays hitters off balance. They whiffed on 18 percent of their swings and were caught staring at 23 called strikes. The same can be said for his starts against the Angels and Athletics as well. In his last three outings, he has thrown 290 pitches. He has generated 25 empty swings and coaxed 63 called strikes.
The man who Cobb replaced in the rotation, Jeff Niemann, started his rehab assignment on Wednesday in Port Charlotte. Meanwhile, Niemann’s impending return does not necessarily mean the end of Cobb’s season as a starter. In an effort to conserve bullets down the stretch, it would not be a surprise to see the Rays go to a six-man rotation for a few turns in late-August/early-September.
And if Cobb keeps pitching this way, he will be the invisible man no longer.