Baltimore Orioles: Alex Cobb Will Have An Impressive 2019

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 24: Starting pitcher Alex Cobb #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 24, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 24: Starting pitcher Alex Cobb #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 24, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Alex Cobb can turn things around in 2019.

‘Tis the season for optimism, positive thoughts, and convincing yourself that your favorite Major League Baseball team has a legitimate shot at winning the World Series. Unfortunately, for fans of the Baltimore Orioles, the optimism and positive thoughts are hard to come by. I don’t want to tell any fan how to cheer, no one should, but a World Series is out of the question.

There is, however, room for optimism. The win-loss record isn’t of importance in 2019. Instead, this season will be all about seeing growth from certain players in the organization who have a chance at maintaining a role with the team once things start to turn around in Baltimore. Fans need to start having their questions about Chance Sisco, Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and DJ Stewart answered, versus having more questions arise.

As far as the pitching staff is concerned, it may be a while before things start to pan out. The top pitching prospects are teenagers and still a few years away from making their major league debuts. Best case scenario for Andrew Cashner is he puts together a decent first half of the season and a contending team comes calling. I’m not entirely sure what the future holds for Dylan Bundy.

Will Bundy rebound in 2019 and remain a fixture in the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation? Teams have already been in contact with the Orioles about acquiring Bundy and if he can limit his home runs this season, I anticipate Mike Elias making a move as he continues to build his roster.

Alex Cobb is the key name here. Signed prior to the 2018 season to a four-year/$57 million deal, Cobb finished his first season in an Orioles’ uniform with a 5-15 record, 4.90 ERA, and 1.41 WHIP. He didn’t sign until late-March and delayed his debut until April 14th, where Cobb made quite the impact on fans.

In his three April starts, Cobb went 0-3 with a 13.11 ERA, and 2.83 WHIP. He surrendered 17 earned runs on 30 hits in 11.2 innings, striking out only four hitters, all coming in his second start of the year, a game against the Detroit Tigers. Cobb was making the Ubaldo Jimenez contract look like a fantastic deal as he struggled through April and May.

Alex Cobb flipped the switch late in the season with the Baltimore Orioles.

I don’t have a lot of confidence in much of the 2019 roster, but I’m going to go down as saying that Alex Cobb will provide a lot of value to the Baltimore Orioles in 2019, and beyond. If I have to make one “bold” prediction for 2019, it will be that Alex Cobb returns to his near 3.0 fWAR performances of years past.

Despite his contract, someone will be willing to pay a solid price for Cobb later this season, allowing the Orioles to move that contract and bring in additional rebuild pieces to help move this process along.

Over the second half of the season, Cobb pitched to a 2.56 ERA and allowed a slash line of .229/288/.377. That comes out to an 81 point decrease in batting average allowed, a 70 point decrease in on-base percentage, and a 164 point decrease in slugging percentage. Of his six starts in August, Cobb went at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs in five of them. Blisters ultimately ended his season a little earlier than expected, but not before ending on a positive note.

Much of Cobb’s success can be attributed to the return of his split-finger changeup. He used it just 14% of the time in 2017 with the Rays, jumping up to 26% in 2018. Cobb’s changeup usage never eclipsed 19.9% in a single month during his early tenure with the Orioles, until he started to turn things around in July/August. Bumping up his usage to 31% in July and 36% in August, Cobb saw fantastic results with the pitch during these two months.

Producing a 30% whiff-rate, an average launch angle of -1 degree (have to love those groundballs), and an average exit velocity nearly 4 mph lower than league average, Cobb just might have figured it all out, again.

Using Baseball Savant’s data, of every pitcher in Major League Baseball who threw at least 100 changeups in July and August, Cobb’s 34.3% usage rate ranked 11th. Opponents hit just .186, slugged .265, and produced a .078 ISO, all of which ranked in the top-third of pitchers.

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His Steamer projections predict a 9-13 season with a 4.89 ERA (4.50 xFIP), 181 IP, and a 1.6 fWAR. PECOTA is projecting a 6-13, 5.21 ERA season, failing to reach 100 strikeouts (97) in 154 innings.

This may say more about the current Baltimore Orioles rotation, but I strongly believe Alex Cobb becomes the leader of the staff and puts together an impressive 2019. By using his changeup from the start, expect to see his strikeout rate climb and his ERA to not scare you away at first glance.

The dramatic improvement in results after using his changeup more often and raising his release point is notable and cause for a high-degree of optimism as 2019 begins in the coming days.

The most common excuse given for Cobb’s poor start in 2018 was his delayed signing, lack of an offseason with the team, and having to take care of his spring training work in a rushed manner in the minor leagues (minus the minor league baseball). He’s now two full seasons removed from his 2016 injuries, has had a full offseason with the comfort of having a major league job, has a new pitching coach in Doug Brocail, and a new analytical approach from the organization’s front office.

There may not be a lot of optimism surrounding the likes of Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, and a majority of the rest of this roster, but Alex Cobb and his changeup are ready for a big 2019. Hopefully, the rest of the league will be watching closely and prepare to offer up.

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Do you like the chances for an improved Alex Cobb in 2019? Is there another player on the current roster you believe is destined for a big 2019? Let us know!