Every year, sports gambling websites release odds on every possible thing in baseball. One such thing is the end-of-season awards, and this year, several Rays are involved quite prominently. In the AL MVP race, Evan Longoria was placed at 14-to-1 odds to win it by Bovada.lv while Wil Myers was at 25-to-1. For the AL Cy Young, meanwhile, David Price has the second-best likelihood at 9-to-1, trailing only Yu Darvish, and Matt Moore gives the Rays two in the top five with his 12-to-1 odds. Then we see another Rays starter, Chris Archer, appear at 33-to-1 odds and Grant Balfour comes in at 50-to-1. The biggest shocker of all, though, Alex Cobb is tied with Archer at just 33-to-1 odds. Cobb may not have the pure stuff of Price, Moore, or Archer–but we saw in 2013 that his emergence as an ace and potential Cy Young winner could happen this season.
In 2013, Cobb was dominant, going 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA, an 8.4 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 22 starts and 143.1 innings pitched. He had a 3.01 ERA in his first 13 starts before a line drive off the bat of Eric Hosmer put his season on hold. He dealt with concussion symptoms and also a fluid buildup in his ear, and there was talk that he might be out the rest of the season and never be the same pitcher once he got back. Instead, Cobb returned in August and was even better, managing a 2.41 ERA. Is there any chance Cobb can repeat that level of performance? There actually is. Cobb continues to have excellent command of his sinker and a dominant split-changeup, but the difference in 2013 was his curveball. Cobb’s curveball was always his third pitch, but in 2013, it came on as a legitimate third pitch and even emerged as Cobb’s go-to secondary pitch at times. Even if his fastball does not hit the mid-90’s, Cobb now has three plus pitches and the ability to overpower hitters every time out.
Every player who delivers a breakout season is going to regress in some aspects the next season. The available information is too good for opposing hitters to not adjust to Cobb in 2014. However, even as hitters adjust, other factors will help Cobb remain an outstanding pitcher. In 2013, Cobb’s FIP was a 3.36, noticeably above his ERA, but his xFIP was actually just 3.02 as 14.8% of his flyballs went for home runs, well above the league average of 10.5%. With better luck on the home run front, Cobb getting back to his 2013 levels is not so crazy. In addition, 2013 was the first year that his curveball was truly effective. If he can keep improving it, hitters will have an even tougher time.
The last issue that must be addressed is Cobb’s health. How can we expect a pitcher who has yet to throw 145 innings in a major league season to contend for the Cy Young award? The first thing to notice is that Cobb has never suffered at arm injury, and the second is that he tossed 177.2 innings pitched between the minors and majors in 2012. Cobb has suffered freak injuries two of the last three years, and his luck is bound to improve. Add in that he pitches efficiently and deep into games, and this could be the year he gets to 200 innings or pretty close.
The odds are that Alex Cobb will not win the American League Cy Young in 2014. There are plenty of talented pitchers in the American League, and it is crazy to say that any one pitcher will win it. However, Cobb’s odds of coming away with the award are far better than 33-to-1, and if you are looking for one Rays bet to make this offseason, that could very well be it.