Rays Manager Joe Maddon is known to use some unusual language for a baseball manager and this spring's quote to note is that Alex Cobb is "pretty much ensconced" in the rotation.
This is quite a switch for Cobb who reported to spring training and was part of the very first group of cuts - mainly because he was still recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot and blockage from the area of his top right rib performed in August of 2011. Prior to his injury he had made 9 starts posting a 3-2 record with a 3.42/3.61 ERA/FIP.
He earned his spot in the rotation with a very solid finish to the 2012 season. He returned to the Rays in mid-May after Jeff Niemann was placed on the disabled list with a broken leg and made his season debut and earned the win by tossing 7 innings allowing only 2R/ER in a 5-2 Rays victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Cobb was still recovering from the surgery when he reported to spring training in 2012 and, just to make sure that there was no confusion, was sent to minor league camp in the very first round of cuts. He reported to Durham and was to build up his arm strength and regain command of his arsenal. Whether or not he was ready he was summoned back to the Rays to replace Jeff Niemann after he was placed on the disabled list with a broken leg in mid-May. He made his season debut with the Rays on May 19th and earned the win by tossing 7 innings allowing only 2R/ER in a 5-2 Rays victory.
He made 23 starts on the year posting a record of 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA (3.67 FIP), a K/9 rate of 7 and a BB/9 rate of 2.64. After 2 impressive starts to start his 2012 season (12IP & 3ER) he was beaten and battered in his next 10 outings he went 2-8 with a 5.49 ERA (57.1 IP & 35 ER). Showing the maturity of a veteran pitcher allowed Cobb to make the necessary changes on the fly and over his last 11 starts from August 1st to the end of the season he led the AL in wins (tied with Ryan Dempster and Hisashi Iwakuma) going 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA (67 IP & 23 ER).
In 2012 his repertoire was heavy on the off-speed pitches. According to Fangraphs he threw his fastball only 40.7% (90.3 mph), his curveball 19.1% ( 78.7 mph), and his changeup 33.8% (85 mph). His percentage of changeups would have led the AL if he would have had enough innings to qualify (league leader was James Shields at 28.9%). According to ESPN's Scouting Report he likes to throw a first pitch fastball (58%) or curveball (32%). When he gets ahead in the count his fastball usage drops (38%) and he goes to the changeup (47%). Against RHB his pitch mix is fastball (54%), changeup (30%), and curves (15%) and against LHP his pitch mix is slightly different: fastball (46%), changeups (37%), and curveball (17%).
He held RHB to a wOBA of .278 and a slash line of .247/.297/.336 only allowing 3 HR striking out 41 and walking 11. Meanwhile, LHB had a little more fun with him posting a .322 wOBA and posting a slash line of .253/.331/.404 allowing 8HR while striking out 65 and walking 29.
Last season we examined Jeff Niemann's struggles after pitch #75 but Alex Cobb has the opposite problem as he struggles early in games. Over his first 25 pitches the opposition OPS's .730 but as shown below once he settles in his performance generally gets stronger as the game proceeds.
After trading James Shields the Rays will look to replace his 200 innings not by one guy but by asking a little more out of the rest of the starting staff. Alex Cobb is 100% healthy this spring and between Durham and the Rays delivered a career high 177.2 innings topping his previous high of 139.2 while pitching Class A ball for Columbus in 2008.