CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

Futures Guide 2014 is Now Available in Paperback and Three E-book Formats.

Premium and Super Premium Subscribers Get a 20% Discount at MLB.tv!

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Top Tools: Arm Strengt... (03/11)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Budget A... (02/26)
No Next Column
Next Article >>
Premium Article Western Front: Rime of... (03/12)

March 12, 2013

Fantasy Beat

Alex Cobb's Rising Auction Value

by Jason Collette

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Rays righty Alex Cobb has been collecting a bit of fantasy helium in recent weeks. He went for $9 and $11 in recent expert league auctions, and some sites are suggesting that compare him to veterans like Hiroki Kuroda. Moreover, three members of the ESPN fantasy analyst panel recently pegged Cobb as their fantasy starting-pitcher sleeper.  

We also know that Cobb is adding a new pitch to his arsenal—which consisted of a sinking fastball, a curveball, and a split-changeup in 2012—and that is one of several reasons to be bullish about the 25-year-old’s near-term potential. His 18.6 percent strikeout last year was around the league average, but he paired it with a solid, 7.0 percent walk rate, outperforming the league average for starting pitchers in that department. He also had a 1.25 WHIP, and his pedestrian 4.03 ERA was inflated by a 68.5 percent strand rate, which is a notch below his career clip of 70.3 percent. Finally, from an approach standpoint, Cobb’s ground-ball style (58.8 percent ground-ball rate last year) fits well in front of the Rays’ strong infield defense, which features Evan Longoria at third, Yunel Escobar at short, a quadtoon at second, and James Loney at first.

However, despite all of those signs of promise, Cobb also comes with a few concerns that must be assuaged if fantasy owners are to justify an investment along the lines of those recently made in expert leagues.

Back in mid-December, I wrote an article about how Jeremy Hellickson pitched better with runners on base (out of the stretch) than he did out of the windup. Resident mechanics expert Doug Thorburn gave a good, plausible explanation for that phenomenon in the comments:

Just an observation, but part of the explanation for his success with runners on could be mechanical.

I feel that Hellickson has a better delivery from the stretch because he brings more momentum with runners on base, which acts to lengthen his release point - which means later relative pitch-break, giving batters less time to identify the incoming pitch. 

Hellickson is slow to the plate from the windup [
I gave him a 40 grade], but he often gets going with runners on [closer to a 50]. He uses a couple of strategies from the stretch, from a slide step to his standard leg lift, and though he does not get closer to the plate on the slide step (leg comes down too early), he does get noticeably closer to the plate when he uses a regular leg lift from the stretch due to the greater momentum. From what I have seen, he mostly relies on his regular leg lift from the stretch but mixes in the slide step to keep base-runners honest - so most of his pitches with runners on base have a deeper release point than his pitches from the windup. 

Why Hellickson doesn't use his stretch-momentum from the windup is somewhat perplexing, but he probably feels like he can repeat his timing more consistently with the slower motion.

Cobb is Hellickson’s evil-twin brother, in that he struggles when there are runners on base. Cobb has faced 475 hitters with the bases empty in his career, and he has limited those hitters to a .236/.303/.356 triple-slash line, to go with 90 strikeouts and only 35 walks (.278 BABIP). Conversely, when there are runners already on base, opposing hitters’ triple-slash line jumps to .276/.337/.376, and his BABIP against increases to .316.

Part of the reason Cobb has issues with men on base is that he is worried about controlling the running game. Cobb has a couple things working against him, in that regard: 1) He does not throw anything straight or hard, and 2) He is slow to the plate, making it easier for runners to steal bases when he is on the mound and more difficult for his catchers to throw them out. In fact, base-stealing hopefuls are 30-for-32 on their attempts against him in the majors, with Albert Pujols and Shin-Soo Choo representing the unfortunate duo.

Thorburn is not a fan of the slide step, because he believes that it leads to shortened strides, missed targets, and even global warming—and it is an element that he believes is holding Cobb back.

Cobb has a slow delivery from the windup, with a weird hitch after max leg lift, but he has figured out how to repeat that odd pattern. His stretch timing is completely different, especially with a slide step and a runner on first. He will ditch the slide step with a runner on third, but will still pitch from the stretch, so in effect he has three different timing patterns, but he has only mastered one of them. 

He is opposite from Hellickson in that, while I like Hellickson’s release distance better from the stretch due to better momentum, Cobb's distance is muted by a short stride that mitigates his extra momentum. Cobb will be better from the windup until he harnesses a consistent timing pattern from the stretch, and I think the odds of him doing that would be much better if he scrapped the slide step. But, right now, the combination of disrupted timing and a short stride make him a much less effective pitcher from the stretch.

Here are Cobb’s pitch outcomes split into situations (data courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info):

SITUATION

PITCHES

K%

BB%

wOBA

Bases Empty

1,710

19.7

6.7

.294

Runner(s) On

1,128

16.1

7.7

.312

 

SITUATION

PITCHES

STRIKE%

SWING%

MISS%

Bases Empty

1,710

65.1

43.3

20.7

Runner(s) On

1,128

63.5

44.9

17.8

 

SPLIT

PITCHES

FASTBALL%

CURVEBALL%

CHANGEUP%

Bases Empty

1,710

49

19

32

Runner(s) On

1,128

45

17

37

Cobb strikes out a higher percentage of hitters out of the windup, as he gets more swings and misses while throwing a higher percentage of strikes. The pitch most adversely affected when Cobb switches from the windup to the stretch is his split-changeup. Cobb has thrown 544 split-changeups with the bases empty, and he has held batters to a .166 batting average and a .212 weighted on base average on those offerings. When at least one runner has been on base, though, the 422 split-changeups he has thrown have been turned around to the tune of a .270 average and a .370 wOBA.

According to his Brooks Baseball player card, Cobb has used the split-change 35 percent of the time in his career, and it is his weapon of choice in two-strike counts (47 percent vs. LHH, 50 percent vs. RHH in those situations. From reviewing Cobb’s heat maps, you’ll notice that he can effectively bury that split-change when pitching out of the wind-up, but he tends to both elevate the pitch and catch more of the plate with it when throwing from the stretch.

Cobb’s $9-11 price tag in expert auctions is fair, but given his incomplete development process, it’s tough to envision him delivering significant surplus value over that investment.

 

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

4 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Top Tools: Arm Strengt... (03/11)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Budget A... (02/26)
No Next Column
Next Article >>
Premium Article Western Front: Rime of... (03/12)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Painting the Black: Super Twoing
Premium Article What You Need to Know: Meltdown in Minnesota
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, April 18
Premium Article Notes from the Field: A-Ball Notes
Premium Article Raising Aces: Masahiro Tanaka, the Debut Ant...
Baseball Prospectus News: New Stat Reports a...
Premium Article Skewed Left: How Service Time Dictates Top P...

MORE FROM MARCH 12, 2013
Overthinking It: The Not-So-Secret Sabermetr...
Baseball ProGUESTus: The Tyranny of Acronyms
Premium Article Out of Left Field: The Letting Go
Premium Article Painting the Black: Reality Show
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Airing the Dirty Laundry in F...
Premium Article Western Front: Rime of the '83 Mariners

MORE BY JASON COLLETTE
2013-03-21 - BP Fantasy Podcast: Episode 37: Custer Had a...
2013-03-20 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Saves Are Everywhere
2013-03-15 - BP Fantasy Podcast: NFBC Update
2013-03-12 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Alex Cobb's Rising Auction Val...
2013-03-11 - BP Fantasy Podcast: Episode 35: Part One of ...
2013-03-08 - Pre-Season Positional Rankings: Top 80 Fanta...
2013-03-06 - Fantasy Freestyle: Expert-League Auction Val...
More...

MORE FANTASY BEAT
2013-03-12 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Alex Cobb's Rising Auction Val...
2013-02-26 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Budget Allocations and Pitchin...
2013-02-19 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Budget Allocation in Expert Au...
2013-02-13 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: The Closer Matrix
More...