In a year to forget, Alex Cobb’s numbers have served as the perfect representation of the Orioles 2018 season. Not great, not good, but painfully inadequate.
Cobb is currently sitting at a 3-15 record, and holds a 5.31 ERA. While wins and losses may not be the best indicator of performance for guys like Mets starter Jacob deGrom, an earned run average over five is tough to ignore. And yet, Cobb has been the Orioles best pitcher this past month, and there are several reasons to think that may be the case moving forward.
By now, everyone knows the story of Cobb signing late in the offseason and missing the majority of spring training. Fans are also likely aware of the four-year, $57 million contract he signed in late March. That’s certainly not a contract built for a team that’s in the beginning stages of a full rebuild, but what’s done is done.
Focusing on the present, or at least the more recent past, Cobb has been steadily putting up solid numbers since the middle of July. In his last six starts, he’s pitched to a 2.17 ERA over 37.1 innings. That’s not just an improvement, that’s top of the rotation stuff.
Cobb and manager Buck Showalter have credited the righty’s recent success to the improvement and more frequent use of a changeup. Showalter did not completely blame the lack of a spring training for Cobb, but he conceded that it played a factor in Cobb’s first half struggles.
It may have taken a while for the 30-year-old starter to get his three-pitch mix working, but it’s finally paying off. However, his recent success has not resulted in more victories. During the six-game stretch, he’s only 1-4 despite a 1.14 WHIP. The lone win came came in Yankee Stadium on August first. Cobb allowed only a solo homer in seven innings and struck out six Yankee batters.
Cobb took a loss his last time out against Boston, despite allowing only one earned run in seven innings. Maybe he can relate to deGrom after all.
So the guy took it up a notch after the All-Star break, big deal. It’s clearly too late for an Orioles turnaround, so why is this significant?
First and foremost, he’s signed for three more years. The Orioles already have at least one long term deal they regret; they don’t need a second on the books. Cobb performing close to his career 3.77 ERA would be money well spent, and eventually open up a trade scenario if the rebuild takes as long as expected.
Cobb may fetch a decent return down the line, but he has the opportunity to make a big contribution during the Orioles rebuild. With a plethora of young pitchers looking to break into the big leagues, having a veteran around would certainly benefit the young guns. There’s no way of knowing whether pitchers like Dillon Tate and Keegan Akin have what it takes to succeed with the Orioles, but having an experienced leader in the clubhouse could only help their chances.
While Cobb will have an opportunity to help the Orioles in their rebuild, his presence will continue to be felt this season. Sure, winning may not be the Orioles’ number one priority right now, but they still need guys out there capable of taking the ball every five days. With Kevin Gausman gone, Andrew Cashner’s inconsistency, and Dylan Bundy serving up long balls, Cobb has been the only guy Buck can count on for a quality start.
Cobb is not a strikeout pitcher. The Boston native has notched a season high of seven only twice this year, and has not shown a great ability to make hitters miss. Still, a contact pitcher is exactly what the Birds need right now. Trades of Zach Britton, Brad Brach and the injured Darren O’Day have resulted in a depleted bullpen filled with inexperienced relievers. The former Rays pitcher has provided the bullpen some much needed rest of late.
Cobb threw over 100 pitches in his last two starts, and he’s tossed at least six innings in his last four outings. His success may not bode well for the Orioles chance at securing the number one draft pick, but Showalter must appreciate it.
Bright spots on this team have been few and far between. Cobb’s struggles were one of the greatest disappointments for the majority of the season, but he’s finally back on track. Maybe a few more Orioles players will put together a stretch worthy of garnering hope for the future before the season’s end.