Jake Odorizzi was a talented prospect for a long time, but he will owe much of his big league success to Alex Cobb. As we have heard ad nauseam, it was Cobb who taught Odorizzi the split-change that allowed him to take the next step in his development. However, perhaps that one clear connection between Odorizzi and Cobb has made us overlook the other things they have in common. Another one became apparent when Odorizzi pitched in the Tampa Bay Rays’ split-squad game today.
In 2011 for the Rays, 23-year-old right-hander Alex Cobb pitched well, but not in a way that made his success seem sustainable. The same can be said of Jake Odorizzi’s age-23 season in 2013. While he looked OK, especially towards the end of the season, nobody saw him as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter. He had more of a prospect pedigree than Cobb, but his lack of a dynamic secondary pitch remained a major concern.
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Cobb took another step in 2012, delivering a 4.03 ERA in 23 starts as he looked like he could be a strong mid-rotation starter for the Rays for a long time. That was quite similar to Odorizzi’s 4.13 ERA in his 31 starts in 2014. They didn’t get to those final numbers exactly the same way, but Odorizzi’s ERA was 5.13 through 11 starts while Cobb was 5.05. Most importantly, both of them proved to be better than we thought, although just how much better was far from clear.
We know that Jake Odorizzi’s story stops there and that Alex Cobb has since pitched like an ace for the last two years. Is Odorizzi on that trajectory? The Rays certainly hope so, but they can’t be too optimistic. It was improbable that Cobb got so much better, and we can say that even though his durability remains far from a sure thing. Odorizzi will realistically be a number three starter, and if he is, the Rays will be satisfied.
Even as we acknowledge that, though, it is worth mentioning one of the big factors in Cobb’s ascendance in 2013: his curveball. From the beginning of his career through the end of the 2o11 season, Cobb threw his curveball 18.34% of the time overall and 29.76% of the time on his first pitch to hitters. Since then, the pitch has been effective enough to jump to 22.00% overall and 37.00% on the first pitch. It has especially helped him against left-handed batters.
What is Jake Odorizzi doing now? He is working on his first-pitch curveball. Of course, it comes in nearly 10 MPH slower than Cobb. It is also his second breaking ball behind his slider. And Odorizzi also needs more help against righty batters after he exhibited a reverse split in 2014. On the other side, Odorizzi has much more room to make his curveball an important part of his arsenal after he threw it just 5.47% of the time overall last season and 13.81% on the first pitch.
Jake Odorizzi has made a living throwing high fastballs while Alex Cobb attacks hitters with his sinker. They are far from the same pitcher, even if they share a split-change and Odorizzi is trying to follow Cobb’s lead with his curveball. Even so, can it possibly be bad thing that Odorizzi is modeling himself after the best pitcher the Rays have? Maybe Odorizzi’s latest project won’t help him at all, but if he is going to parallel Cobb’s ascendance from the last two years, this is the way he will do it.