Some fantasy baseball players here and there, sort of, in a way, kind of think that already. But they may not be eager to draft Alex Cobb like one, and they shouldn’t need to do so. In terms of performance, there haven’t been too many hurlers better in the last couple of years. He finished 34th in Zach Sanders’ end-of-season rankings for the position. The right-hander has yet to pitch even 170 innings in a single campaign at any level, however. He likely doesn’t strike the populace as dependable.
There really isn’t a need to make the case that Cobb is good. Fantasy owners know that he’s good. But would they call him an ace? Probably not. For now, then, I’ll call him a pseudo ace.
Cobb, with his top-end stuff and command of it, has reached that level. He fits a mold of pitcher who seems almost effortlessly to serve as a No. 1 but whom folks view as a No. 2 type. Just ask Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. Wait, no need. David Laurila saved you some time.
Cobb simply does some of the things we want in that type of pitcher extremely well and often. He strikes out hitters pretty frequently and doesn’t walk many of them. (He was 27th among qualifiers in K-BB%.) He gets ground balls. (His rate was fourth.) His mastery of the split-changeup, among other things, has helped him to produce, naturally, very good marks in FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. His ERA has outdone those marks in each of the last two years. The outcomes kind of remind me of Brandon Webb’s, minus a few strikeouts, in his days as the counterfeit ace of the Arizona Diamondbacks. There’s probably a better comp; he’s just who came to mind.
Other than playing time (192 innings), I look at his 2015 Steamer projection (a 3.46 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 13.8 K-BB%) as, basically, a worst-case scenario. There isn’t much of anything from his past two seasons to regress. His repertoire should continue to produce a low xBABIP, like he was in the midst of doing this past season, one that helps him to suppress his rate of hits allowed to something below league average.
Cobb’s health record is the perceptible flaw. His isn’t littered with a history of structural (shoulder and/or elbow) damage, however. He’s experienced no significant issues since he had surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome in 2011. Otherwise, in the last five years, he’s sustained a couple of strained trunk muscles and a concussion because he was struck by a line drive. At least he didn’t make Jeff Zimmerman’s top 10 of his likeliest to hit the DL in 2015. I’m be interested to see where the pitcher lands on Jeff’s full list. I don’t think that there are many reasons to believe that Cobb can’t hit the health lottery in 2015 and beyond.
Cobb is the type of pitcher I’d target in just about every league. He’s really good, and his performance is reliable. His injury history isn’t particularly concerning. I’d reach a little or top someone for him because I view his brand of dependability as worthwhile. If I’m playing against Jeff, I may not have to worry about that. Cobb just doesn’t seem likely to cost much, relative to the rest. I’d be pretty happy to make him a co-anchor of my fantasy staff in 2015.
With two or three starting pitchers from Cobb’s category, rotisserie and head-to-head managers would have a nice foundation on the pitching side of the ledger and the freedom to accumulate high-end hitters in the first several rounds or with a good portion of a budget. That’s a “strategy” (loose term) Eno and I have tossed around in the podcast as one we favor. I don’t know if Cobb fits Eno’s idea of an Ace Lite, but he does mine.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.