Alex Cobb has been a solid pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays since he cracked their rotation in 2012. However, there was always some reason he was never considered an ace. In 2012 he was more of a back-end pitcher, and despite great numbers in 2013 you had to wonder if it was too good to be true. Then this year he threw to a 4.20 ERA through June and missed time due to injury. But since the start of July, Cobb has proven himself a true topflight starting pitcher.
Since the beginning of July, Cobb has made 13 starts spanning 83.0 innings, an average of about 6.1 innings per start. In that time he has posted a meager 1.63 ERA, an 8.9 K/9, and a 2.4 BB/9, and he has allowed more than two runs in just one start. Also, over that time frame batters are hitting just .209/.273/.252 against him compared to a .246/.310/.377 line through the end of June. Cobb has been dominating for over half a season, and he has shown that his 2013 year was not a fluke.
The key difference for Cobb has been his command. We all know his stuff- 92-94 MPH fastball that has late movement, plus split-change, and above-average curveball- is good enough to get big league hitters out. But in the early part of the season his command struggled, his pitches flattened out, and he was hit hard at times. But something changed for Cobb and all of a sudden he was hitting his spots with much more consistency rather than grooving pitches. Put together his whole package of great stuff, solid command, and outstanding pitchability, and all of a sudden Cobb looks like a clear ace.
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The biggest thing still holding Cobb back, though, is his ability to stay healthy. In his career, Cobb has missed time due to multiple non-arm injuries that were generally related to his side (i.e. ribs and oblique). Some wonder if this is due to his non-traditional pitching motion. Despite having what one would consider a “workhorse body type,” Cobb has only once topped 150 innings as a pro (though he is likely to marginally top it this season). You have to wonder if Cobb can stay healthy enough to make 30+ starts in a season, and if he can keep his side healthy enough there are concerns that his arm hasn’t been built up enough to handle 200+ innings. This is a legitimate concern moving forward, but the one thing we do know is that when Cobb is on the field he is as good as any pitcher the Rays have.
All-in-all, Cobb has stepped up and claimed the title of Rays’ ace since the departure of David Price. He has refined his command after it was inconsistent earlier in the year, and because of it he has pitched just as well as any other pitcher in baseball since the start of July. Of course, he still has to work to remain healthy, but if he can we could very well see Alex Cobb in Cy Young consideration for years to come.