Andy Sonnanstine is like a favorite son to the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Not particularly talented, he’d never really been more than a place holder. He’s fearless, which endears him to Joe Maddon, but he’s a pitcher who continues to lose velocity, which we can see thanks to the folks at FanGraph and has become a major liability to a team that is pitching rich.
Sonny has been a member of the team for some time, but these days he is a gas can. Looking at his FanGraph chart, his velocity has come down from a range of the mid-80’s to low 90’s in 2007 to 81-88 in 2011. You need absolute pinpoint accuracy and the ability to mix pitches and speeds, and he’s not that kind of pitcher. He can hold a couple innings for you which is why he has worked so far in long relief, but leave him in for much longer and the hitters are grinning like Cheshire Cat’s. He isn’t fooling anyone, and games are disappearing when he is in the rotation.
Meanwhile, Alex Cobb, who I profiled on April 20th, deserves to come back up and get another shot. Cobb actually was doing well but players picked up quickly that he was tipping his pitches. Pitching coach Jim Hickey pulled him aside for some instruction between innings, but Cobb, already jittery in his first major league start, fell apart and had to be pulled in the 5th inning in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
It’s pretty common for a player fresh off the farm to be nervous. It is also obvious that it threw him off center and he wasn’t able to overcome so much information. But Cobb certainly has been working on it and he is destroying AAA hitters. He struck out seven yesterday against Louisville, a team that is stacked with major league prospects and players like Jeremy Hermida, Zach Cozart, Yonder Alonso, Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco, while allowing one run on seven hits. He is 5-0 in Durham with a 1.31 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a 45/10 K/BB. Tipping his pitches or not, he is the kind of young arm the Rays need to bring up and give him a chance to succeed. We already know what Sonnanstine has, and it isn’t major-league caliber.
Cobb should also be a little more calm after that rough first game. He certainly can’t be any worse than Sonnanstine.