When MLB announced the All-Star reserves, one of the glaring omissions from the National League pitching staff was that of Alex Cobb, starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, who was having his season since his 2014 Tommy John Surgery. Though, for a player who’d been around baseball for the better part of thirty years and Major League clubhouses for over 20, an extra six days only makes the honor sweeter.
When Alex Cobb made his Major League debut for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, he wasn’t one of the top prospects in baseball, much less in his own organization. Jeremy Hellickson, ranked the second top prospect in baseball in between #1 Mike Trout and #3 Bryce Harper, and future ace Chris Archer were the talk of the farm. Yet Cobb, who grew up three hours down the Florida turnpike in Vero Beach, balled out when he landed in St. Pete. In his first 81 games, Cobb posted a 118 ERA+, 18% better than the league average pitcher, with a 3.21 ERA in nearly 500 frames. He complimented it with a 3.43 FIP, 426 K’s and a record 12 games over .500.
One could make the argument that Cobb could have been an All-Star in 2013 or 2014. In 2013, Cobb posted a 139 ERA+ and a 2.76 ERA. In 2014, it went up to a 2.87 ERA and down to a 130 ERA+, but both are still excellent marks. Furthermore, the players selected for the Rays weren’t quite as good as Cobb in those years. Matt Moore ways the Rays pitcher elected to the MLB All-Star Game in 2013 when he posted a 3.29 ERA and a 117 ERA+ in a similar amount of innings. In 2014, longtime staff ace David Price had a 3.11 ERA and 119 ERA+ at the time of his deadline deal to Detroit.
But Cobb’s 2013 and 2014 seasons weren’t exactly smooth sailing, either. In 2013, Cobb missed time in June when he took a liner off his head while pitching to Royals’ Eric Hosmer. In 2014, Cobb was shut down for the season when he underwent Tommy John Surgery. He missed all of 2015 in recovery.
Though Cobb bounced back in 2018 with the Rays, posting a solid 3.66 ERA in 29 starts, his Major League career has gone south since. In 2019, he pitched in only three games in his second year on a four-year pact with Baltimore to recover from hip surgery. When the Orioles opted to pay the entire salary to dump Alex Cobb on the Angels in 2021, he struggled with blisters and wrist inflammation.
Alex Cobb’s Major League career through his age-33 season is a story of untapped potential because of his health woes. When the Giants took a flyer on him in 2022, Cobb pitched 149 innings, his most since 2018, and posted a 2.80 FIP. His FIP was his best mark of his career, suggesting that his decent 3.73 ERA wasn’t indicative of just how good he pitched in the Bay. If anything, the underlying peripherals have been proven in 2023, with Alex Cobb cruising into the All-Star break with a 2.91 ERA. The 2.91 ERA represents his best mark in nearly a decade.
But for those who have noticed what the Giants have done with Cobb, it shouldn’t be too surprising. Cobb’s focus on control late in his career has provided the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.1) of his career thus far, and he’s done it with a resurgence in velocity as well. Cobb cites work with Driveline, a baseball throwing program about a half-hour south of Seattle. “Ultimately, after 2020, I went to Driveline and reinvigorated my career,” Cobb told Giants Baseball Insider. “I used to be sitting 92-93, now I’m sitting 94-95. It really got my delivery back to where my split was moving a lot more. There’s a handful of things that have gone into it.” But, more importantly, for an oft-injured arm, Driveline changed his routine in between outings. Cobb also notes that he recovers a lot more efficiently.
The main thing the Giants have done is change his pitch frequency. When Cobb entered the Majors, he primarily relied on a 4-seam/changeup combo, however, he’s only thrown his 4-seam a total of seven times this year. His changeup hasn’t been thrown a single time. He primarily relies on a sinker and slider with a curveball mixed in. Cobb also now offers a splitter more frequently, though he didn’t develop that pitch until 2017 in his final season with the Rays. His sinker went from his third pitch as a young arm to his primary pitch with the Giants. Not only did Cobb and pitching coach Andrew Bailey find the pitches that work better for him, mixing up pitches and location better keeps hitters more honest.
When asked on the Giants broadcast about his first All-Star selection at 35, Cobb noted that he went “through some real lows” in his career that made him question whether he was even Major League caliber. But he also noted how cool it is to know that the star next to 2023 on his Baseball Reference page won’t ever go away.
For Alex Cobb, his first All-Star game comes in his 12th Major-League season at age-35, after numerous injuries, and the ballpark is just a thirty minute drive from the training program that helped turn his career around.
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