Baltimore Orioles: Breaking Down Alex Cobb’s First Start

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: Alex Cobb
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: Alex Cobb /

Alex Cobb’s debut with the Baltimore Orioles went very poorly, as he gave up seven earned runs over 3.2 innings pitched. Here’s what went wrong.

Alex Cobb‘s debut with the Baltimore Orioles was less than ideal. He ended the game giving up 10 hits, seven earned runs, walking one, and striking out zero over 3.2 innings pitched. This is far from the start that Orioles fans were hoping for from their newest acquisition, and it’s pretty clear what went wrong.

This was Cobb’s first start of the year after spending some time in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league system to build up his arm strength after signing with the Orioles later in the offseason, and he looked rusty at best.

It’s important to remember that Cobb has had some significant success in the MLB before, pitching to a 2.76 ERA in 2013 and a 2.87 ERA in 2014, both with the Tampa Bay Rays, before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

More from Baltimore Orioles

He returned last year with the Rays and had a fairly solid year, pitching to a 3.66 ERA, though his 4.16 FIP and 4.48 SIERA, as well as a reduced strikeout rate of 17.3% (compared to 21.9% in 2014), were all red flags that some of his success last year might have been a bit lucky.

Cobb has never had an overwhelming fastball, but it’s worked well enough to set up his breaking pitches, which have been excellent in the past. Specifically, his split-changeup has been an impressive pitch in the past, generating a 21.2 pVAL, an 18.8% whiff rate, and a 53.1% chase rate in 2014.

Here’s a look at how good it’s looked in the past:

However last year, Cobb started throwing his split-change less and elected to start throwing his curveball more. His split-change was a significantly less effective pitch than it has been in the past, with a -4.8 pVAL, 11.5% whiff rate, and 40.8% chase rate. However, his curveball improved a lot, with a 6.9 pVAL (it was -0.3 in 2014).

So the key to Cobb’s success is breaking balls, and he did not have those working at all in his debut against the Boston Red Sox. The movement was poor, and the control was worse, which led to some easy pitches to hit, like this flattened-out split-change to Hanley Ramirez that ended up as a home run:

There was also this curveball Cobb threw that didn’t have the movement it needed and was thrown in the exact wrong place for it to end up as a J.D. Martinez home run:

His control was all over the place too. Here, Chance Sisco sets up for a curveball on the outside corner, and Cobb ends up throwing it on the ground low and in:

Or this fastball that was supposed to be low and in but ended up in almost the opposite place:

It wasn’t all bad though. Cobb had some pitches that looked solid, with some good movement and some good placement, like this curveball that got placed right where Sisco wanted it on the outside corner:

And this curveball that broke all the way across the plate, fooling Hanley Ramirez:

This is Cobb’s first start of the year, so I’m not panicking yet, but I’m somewhat concerned about what I saw from his breaking pitches. I was hoping that his split-change might start to come back into form, and it looks like it isn’t.

In fact, it looks like Cobb is going to employ the same strategy he did last year: more curveballs and fewer split-changes.

Next: Tillman's Time in Baltimore is Coming to an End

If he can replicate the success he had last year, that would be awesome, but I don’t think he can by repeating what he did last year. The peripherals don’t support that being repeatable, and if he doesn’t improve his control and his split-change, I worry about his potential success.