June 4, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Buying Alex Cobb
One of my favorite under-the-radar pitchers this season is Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s only been three outings of 3.71-ERA ball, but I’m buying into that kind of performance completely and think good things lie ahead for the 24-year-old right-hander. He’s less heralded than many of the other young Ray pitchers and pitching prospects, but I believe he’s every bit as good as last year’s rookie sensation Jeremy Hellickson, if not better, and has the higher ceiling of the two. (Admission: that’s a cop-out. If I weren’t afraid of the backlash by Hellickson’s rabid supporters, I’d have been stronger in my assertion that Cobb is better right now. Okay, well, I guess that kind of counts.)
Cobb has posted K/9 rates north of 9.0 at each stop at Double- and Triple-A, but he’s the kind of guy people are skeptical of in the majors. He doesn’t have mind-boggling stuff, and the lack of a dominant fastball can put people off, but there is a lot to like once you get past his four-seamer. He throws with just slightly above-average, low-90s velocity, but he has an interesting smattering of secondary pitches to make up for it.
In addition to his four-seamer, Cobb also throws a two-seam fastball, a change-up, and a knuckle curve. The movement on his change-up is nothing short of ridiculous. Very rarely do you see a changeup (labeled as a splitter by Brooks Baseball) move the way Cobb’s does. Max Scherzer’s is the only one I can think of.
The way Cobb’s changeup tumbles into negative vertical-movement territory is very impressive, and he’s made good use of the pitch in his three starts this year, utilizing it 40 percent of the time. Throwing an off-speed pitch that frequently can sap its effectiveness, but he’s induced whiffs on 18 percent of swings, and the pitch is certainly good enough to rely upon, even if not quite that heavily.
A strikeout per inning will likely elude Cobb now that he’s in the majors, but even if he can’t keep up anything better than a 7.0 K/9, the combination of the sinker, changeup, and knuckle curve—which he has used a combined 75 percent of the time—will result in tons of grounders, which should keep him plenty effective. Throw in solid control, and you have a player who many are going to wrongly overlook or write off too quickly.
And, of course, he’ll be aided by the Tampa Bay environment, which boasts a good pitcher’s park in Tropicana Field, MLB’s ninth-best offense in terms of TAv, and a great defense.
A great fantasy comparison for Cobb is Brandon Beachy, not in terms of repertoire, but in the sense that Beachy was a guy who managed excellent minor league numbers but lacked a dominating fastball and didn’t receive much hype. He had a good corps of secondary pitches, however, that allowed him to post an excellent rookie campaign in 2011. I can see Cobb following a similar path.
Put all this together, and you have a guy with good (if not great) stuff, solid control, lots of groundballs, a good park, and quality team support. Yeah, you can sign me up for that. I drafted Cobb in the CBS AL-only Experts League, and I’m excited he’s getting a shot so early in the season. If he’s not owned in your AL-only league yet, snatch him up immediately. Even in a deep mixed league Cobb could well have value. Ride him while Jeff Niemann is out, and I have a feeling you’ll be pleased with the results.