It’s been a tale of two months for Alex Cobb. April was a nightmare. But May hasn’t been half bad.
Many fans and pundits alike were alarmed by Cobb’s rocky start to the season. After all, he did give up 10 hits in each of his first three starts. Batters were making hard contact and Cobb wasn’t getting deep into ballgames. Along with Andrew Cashner, Cobb was expected to stabilize a shaky Orioles rotation from the previous year.
And Cobb came with a quite a pedigree. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 4th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of Vero Beach High School in Florida. He spent six seasons with Tampa, amassing a 48-35 record, good for a .578 winning percentage. In 115 games started, he had a 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 2.79 SO/W ratio.
Even better, Cobb had proven himself a more than capable pitcher against the AL East. In 14 games started against the Yankees, Cobb is 6-4 with a 2.99 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Against Toronto, he is 3-3 in eight games started, with a 3.23 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. In 15 career games against Boston, including his one rocky start this season, Cobb is 6-5 with a 4.02 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.
The Orioles would need him to produce like his career splits in order to stay competitive in the AL East. And yes, the team has dug itself a seemingly insurmountable hole early on, but it’s still important to see Cobb produce against the division. After all, his is signed for the next three years after this one.
In his first three starts, Cobb went a total of 11.2 innings with a total of 17 earned runs. That was good for a 13.11 ERA in the month of April. His WHIP was 2.83. He allowed three walks and tallied only four strikeouts. His groundout-to-air-out ratio was 1.07, down from his career mark of 1.59.
Then he started turning the corner.
In three May starts, Cobb has a 3.06 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. In 17.2 innings pitched, he has allowed 19 hits, six earned runs, three walks and 12 strikeouts. His GO/AO ratio so far this month is 2.33. With his recent improvements, he has been able to shave 6.05 runs off his ERA since the end of April. His ERA still stands at an unsightly 7.06, but it’s moving in the right direction.
Bear in mind, Alex Cobb signed late in Spring Training, on March 20. That was only nine days before the Orioles’ season opener. That is a very late signing, especially for a starting pitcher. These guys are creatures of habit who are used to taking an entire month and a half to get ready for the start of the season. But Alex Cobb did not have that luxury this year.
The Baltimore Sun chronicled Cobb’s unorthodox approach to spring training, where he took a total of 24 days to get ready for the regular season. Most other Oriole pitchers had 44 days to get ready, seeing as the report date this spring for pitchers and catchers was February 13 and the season opener was on March 29.
Not only did Cobb have less time to get ready, he faced other hurdles on his way to joining the big league club on April 14. He was left behind in Sarasota when the Orioles and everyone else went north to start the regular season. He totaled four starts in Florida, which came against lower level competition (minor leaguers in extended spring training). There is no substitution for live repetitions against big league hitters. And Alex Cobb did not have that exposure to regular big leaguers when he was getting ready to start his season.
There was another separate issue with Cobb’s usage of major league baseballs in the minors. Because Cobb was not injured and had to technically accept an assignment to the minors in order to get ready for the start of the season, he was not allowed to use major league baseballs in minor league games. Therefore, the Orioles did not pitch him in any minor league games.
As Eduardo Encina states in the Sun article mentioned earlier, “Minor league baseballs are smaller with higher seams, and pitching with major league baseballs was important to Cobb in order to get a feel for his pitches.” For the same reasons, minor league baseballs also put more stress on a pitcher’s arm, so the Orioles decided to pass on that risk.
It’s no wonder Cobb got off to a rough start in April. He was behind the eight ball when the Orioles signed him, and he went through a truncated spring training in order to get up to the big league club as fast as possible. With more reps under his belt, we are starting to see the results that were widely expected.