All through the minor leagues, Alex Cobb was never considered too much of a prospect. He pitched very well, but he had only great pitch, his split-change, to go along with a solid fastball that hovered around 90 MPH and a mediocre curveball. But then Jeff Niemann‘s back injury and Andy Sonnanstine‘s poor performance gave Cobb a chance to make his major league debut in May of 2011, and on May 31st he joined the Rays’ rotation to stay. In his next 8 starts, Cobb was dominant, going 3-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 30-13 strikeout to walk ratio in 7 starts and 44 innings pitched. He was so good that the Rays went to a 6-man rotation to give him a rotation spot once Niemann returned. But then in his following start, he suddenly departed with a rib injury, and he began the following season back at Triple-A.
Everyone loves themselves an underdog story. From the 1969 Mets to the 2006 George Mason Patriots, the stories gain traction like none other. But a telling stat is that just one college basketball team described as “cinderella” has ever won the National Championship, the 1963 NC State Wolfpack. The refrain when they keep winning is that “midnight has not come yet,” but for almost everyone, it’s only a matter of time before their luck runs out. Alex Cobb, however, didn’t become the Rays’ best pitcher for most of this season by simple fortune.
The past couple of years, Cobb has sharpened up the command of his fastball, improved his split-change from plus to unhittable, and dramatically improved his curveball to give him a third quality offering. He went from a questionable major league starter to whom people thought the league would adjust to a legitimate frontline type of pitcher. But as quickly as it happened, it disappeared. For the second time in his career now, Cobb has gone down with a freak injury, this one from getting hit by an Eric Hosmer line drive. We’re not talking about arm injuries here. Cobb’s mechanics are fine and his success was never a product of a delivery that would one day bring him down. It just seems that for every lucky break he gets, another calamity befalls him. Why is it that he keeps putting in so much hard work and making his entire career shine as brightly as ever only to watch everything come tumbling down again? That was never more the case than with the news cycle following his recent injury. Cobb was diagnosed with a mild concussion after the liner, which certainly seemed great news for the Rays and a sign that he would be back on the mound within a few weeks. But then this morning the news broke that Cobb has a problem in his right ear and he may in fact be out the rest of the season. Once again, it seemed like everything was fine and then it turned out that the news was as bad as anyone could have thought.
The sad truth is that pitchers, no matter how great are susceptible to injuries. You never know when the injury bug will strike and it could hit anyone from the biggest star to the Triple-A lifer still waiting for his big league chance. To become an all-time great or even just a solid pitcher for a time, you need a lot of luck. No matter how good your pure stuff is and how well you hone your arsenal, it all means nothing if you can’t stay ont he mound. Alex Cobb just isn’t getting it right now. There’s a reason there aren’t more underdog pitchers who emerge as some of the best in baseball–just because they defied the odds to crack the major leagues and succeed doesn’t mean they can dodge injury as well. Cobb just couldn’t do it and now he finds his entire career in question again. You have to hope that he’ll make a full recovery within a few months and return to action before the end of the year, but when you hear about something like an ear injury, it has to scare you. Will Cobb ever be the same? Will all this success he had be a transient glimmer of what could have been? And though we will never get an answer, we have to ask: of all the pitchers in baseball, why is it Alex Cobb who has to go through something like this?