It wasn’t until the onset of spring training that Alex Cobb was officially given a spot in the Rays’ rotation and the second-year right-hander began the season as the Rays’ 4th starter, overshadowed by David Price, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson. But two months into the 2013 season, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Cobb was the ace of the Rays’ staff. On June 5th, Cobb followed up 8.1 strong innings versus the Yankees with 7.2 shutout frames against the Tigers, lowering his ERA to 2.39 on the season. In 75.1 innings pitched, he had struck out 69 while walking just 17, using his low-90′s fastball that he commanded flawlessly in the bottom of the zone, his excellent split-change that seemed to miss bats with impunity, and his ever-improving curveball to dominate opposing hitters. In his next start, however, he descended back to earth, allowing 6 runs in 7 hits in 4 innings of work, but that proved to be the least of Cobb’s concerns. On June 15th, Cobb had allowed 2 runs to the Kansas City Royals over the first 4 innings when Eric Hosmer led off the 5th with a line drive off of the right side of Cobb’s head and his ear, sending him sprawling onto the ground in pain and eventually off the field in a stretcher. Cobb’s breakout season had screeched to a halt, and we still have no timetable at all as to when he will return. But for his efforts, Cobb deserves to make the American League All-Star team.
Alex Cobb’s numbers are really good. On the year, he went 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA, striking out 76 while walking just 23 in 13 starts and 83.2 innings pitched. Cobb ranks 24th among MLB starters in ERA (minimum 80 innings pitched) and he ranks 9th by the measure of xFIP, ahead of players like Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, and Stephen Strasburg. If Cobb had stayed healthy and continued pitching well, he would have been an easy pick for the All-Star team, but even just his current numbers are very impressive. But naming Cobb to the All-Star team is about plenty more than the numbers: it would be baseball showing solidarity around the pitchers afflicted by head injuries and commitment towards keeping pitchers as safe as they can possibly be.
After Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head by a line drive last season and required brain surgery, the competition started among equipment companies to create a fitted cap to give pitchers more head protection and reduce the number of pitchers carted off the field with terrifying injuries. Several products have been made but none has been approved by Major League Baseball, meaning that at least one more serious head injury that could have avoided could happen over the coming weeks and months. The reason that no product has been approved, let alone distributed for widespread use, is that no product has lived up to the standards that baseball wants. The padded cap has to be functional yet comfortable enough for pitchers that it won’t be much of an adjustment to wear it, and that product has not yet been found. You could definitely make the case that the lack of a padded cap isn’t baseball’s fault–they don’t have the capabilities to make it themselves so they are doing what they can, incentivizing companies to make it, but the companies just have not done the job. But nevertheless, people will ask every time another pitcher goes down “why isn’t there more protection for pitchers?” and that seriously hurts the sport’s PR. Football is the most popular sport in America, but baseball at least had the advantage that it was significantly safer. It truly is, but if a high school athlete is a pitcher and a football player, couldn’t he see pitchers like Cobb, McCarthy, and J.A. Happ go down and say that the two sports are just about as dangerous? Something has to happen and it has to happen immediately. And in lieu of actual progress at this point, a symbolic gesture has to be made, and naming Cobb to the All-Star team would be exactly that.
Alex Cobb got off to a great start this season and his numbers are All-Star worthy or at least they would have been. Considering he wouldn’t play anyway because of his injury and wouldn’t be taking somebody else’s spot, making him an All-Star wouldn’t cause any type of uproar at all and would make the selection even more worthwhile. Baseball has an opportunity right at the fingertips to reward a deserving player and take a stand for player safety with one simple gesture. Baseball has nothing to lose and so much to gain by making Cobb an American League All-Star.