I’m just as shocked as you are that I’m writing this piece.
When the Angels acquired Alex Cobb on February 1st, my reaction was very similar to other Angels fans: underwhelmed and confused. On Twitter, I called Cobb “a #5 starter, no more or no less” and said “he is what he is”. On our Cobb piece at Crashing the Pearly Gates, my first response was “It’d be an understatement to say that this has been a completely underwhelming and frustrating offseason.” To be quite honest, I still feel similarly about Cobb and the Angels offseason as a whole but I’m trying to take an optimistic approach as the season nears.
And there is certainly a lot of optimism needed in regards to Alex Cobb. The 33-year-old was bad in 2018 (4.90 ERA), missed most of 2019 due to hip surgery, and was roughly league-average (106 ERA+) in the shortened 2020 season. But even amidst that improvement last year came some ugly peripheral numbers. His 6.23 expected ERA (based on strikeouts, walks, and quality of contact) was nearly two runs higher than his actual ERA (4.30). His Statcast profile, as you can see below, was not pretty.
Oh, right. That trying to be optimism thing I mentioned. While Cobb still has plenty of risk with his recent production, age, and injury history, there are a handful of things working in his favor heading into 2021. Here are some different elements that could be a boon to Cobb’s season, some related to his skill-set and some related to his new situation.
Getting out of Camden Yards
The first three areas that I’ll touch on are completely unrelated to Cobb’s actual skills as a pitcher. The first one is obvious: moving from Baltimore to Anaheim. I’m throwing out the 2020 park factors because a 60-game sample provides too much random noise. If you look at the differences between Camden Yards (Baltimore) and Angel Stadium from 2015-2019, it’s very noticeable to see how each park plays. The chart below shows the park factor ranks (ESPN) for each ballpark in both runs (R) and home runs (HR) in each year from 2015-2019.
The gap has narrowed considerably since Angel Stadium lowered the home run boundary of the right-field wall prior to 2018, leading to more pull power from left-handed hitters. But Camden Yards has still edged out Angel Stadium every year in terms of runs scored and comfortably led in home runs in three of the five years. Even with the new changes at Angel Stadium and even if you think the stadium is more neutral than pitcher-friendly now, it’s still a bump up for Cobb.
Making half of your starts in Anaheim rather than Baltimore should be a boon. Just ask Dylan Bundy, former Oriole-turned-Angel who saw his career 1.58 HR/9 rate drop to a career-low 0.69 last season (no, Cobb will not be as good as Bundy).
Switching from the AL East to the AL West
In years past, this might not have been as dramatic of a change. The AL West consistently had three of the better offenses in baseball with the Astros, Athletics, and Angels. In 2021, however, there’s a pretty clear shift in how the two divisions will play. Where the Astros (Springer) and Athletics (Semien, La Stella, Grossman) lost talent, the Blue Jays (Springer, Semien) gained talent. The AL East, generally a hitter-friendly division regardless, just got a whole lot better for 2021. Instead of facing the Yankees, Jays, Rays, and Red Sox for nearly half of the schedule, Alex Cobb will now face the Astros, Athletics, Mariners, and Rangers.
Couple the switch in opponents with the pitcher-friendlier ballparks in the AL West and you now have a second area where Cobb should be helped. A better home ballpark, friendlier visiting ballparks, and easier opponents should help Cobb plenty.
The new ‘deadened’ baseball
Here’s the final area out of Cobb’s control that may end up helping him a ton. On Monday, Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal broke news at The Athletic about the deadening of the baseball heading into 2021. The story cited the baseballs being ever so slightly smaller and having less bounce, which should lead to fewer baseballs leaving the yard. How many fewer baseballs remains to be seen but it’s likely that we’ll see hard contact down to some extent in 2021.
That’s great news for any pitcher in the game but especially for someone like Alex Cobb. While his overall skills and declining age certainly play a part, Cobb has also seen the quality of contact improve significantly against him in recent years. After running roughly league-average hard-hit rates and exit velocities against for much of his career, those numbers have gotten rather ugly recently. Over the past two years, hitters have ran a 90+mph average exit velocity against Cobb and nearly half of the batted balls against him have been of the hard-hit variety (95+ mph).
If there is some deadening of the baseball, Cobb will be helped out. If there is an even bigger impact than we are predicting, then Cobb could have a serious reduction in the quality of contact against him. Cobb moving to Anaheim, out of the AL East, and having a new, friendlier baseball should lead to better results and we haven’t even gotten to his specific skills as a pitcher.
Cobb’s stuff and command are still intact
Strangely, Cobb’s stuff and command haven’t tapered off much and are even better in some regards. From a pure stuff standpoint, Cobb had many positives in 2020. His sinker velocity was at a career-best 92.5 mph. His split-finger fastball generated a career-best 36.2 percent whiff rate. And while his curveball had a below-average whiff rate, the pitch is still above-average in terms of vertical movement, spin rate, and velocity. Much like Dylan Bundy in 2020, Cobb could stand to benefit from further shaving his sinker usage (47.5 percent) and utilizing his splitter/curveball more.
In terms of command, everything seems to check out. Even with the inflated walk rate (8 percent) in 2020, he actually threw more pitches in the zone and more first-pitch strikes. In other words, there’s nothing to worry about with the walk rate. Cobb maintaining his strike-throwing abilities and showing some nastier secondary pitches on the mound could lead to some better results in 2021. There’s also this fun tidbit from The Athletic’s Eno Sarris:
That ground-ball rate, though
The final positive note I want to end on is Cobb’s ground-ball rate and how that fits with the Angels. This one’s pretty straightforward. Cobb’s 53.1 percent grounder rate should play well in front of an Angels infield defense with Anthony Rendon at third base, José Iglesias at shortstop, David Fletcher at second base, and Jared Walsh/Albert Pujols at first base. If there is any meaningful changes with the baseball, too, that could potentially lead to softer contact on ground balls, leading to more ground-outs.
Some final thoughts
I talked about maintaining some optimism about Alex Cobb and I feel like I did that fairly well. But I have to finish this by talking about the obvious risks in buying in on Cobb. He’s a 33-year-old who’s thrown just 64 2/3 innings the past two years. He’s had major surgeries in the past (hip surgery and Tommy John surgery). Based on Eno Sarris’s metrics, Cobb’s chances of landing on the Injured List are in the 91st percentile. That injury risk and age, along with his below-average production over the past three years, makes him rather risky in 2021.
But if Cobb is able to stay healthy, he’s already likely to benefit from a better situation around him. If he takes his pitch mix a bit further (i.e. throwing more splitters and curveballs), there could be another level Cobb reaches. I’m not fairly confident in Cobb reaching this best-case scenario but there are at least some intriguing elements beneath the rather boring profile.
You presented a compelling case for impeachment… sorry, wrong blog.
It would be a happy reunion of old Joe favorites if he hadnt (really) dropped the ball on Callaway.
At ~$5M, it leaves some money and prospects available at the trade deadline if they can hang tough.
Baltimore is becoming our AAAA club.
So what happens someday when all of the prospects we traded away to the Orioles, rise up and beat the shit out of the Angels every time we play them?
As always, it would be Eppler’s fault. Even the players Minasian traded.
don’t worry about that….LOL!
Eoobler was damm awful at scouting.
Markis Simion is stihl aut ther at SS…..sine him and suddenly we have wun of the top infields in MLB especially if Jerid Wallsh is not anuther typickal Angel’s one yeer wunder whoo crashes and burns the folowing yeer. My hope for him is that Dipo scouted him and not Yoo Noh Hoo!! Itz OK Arte to hire a baseball man instead of a dentist to run your baseball ops!! 😣
Huffing is not tight.
I have little expectation for our chances in 2021. I had more faith in Teheran than I have in Cobb.
This one-year deal experiment for aging, declining pitchers has gotten a tad old.
Not for the Rays . They’ve been shopping at the same Dollar Tree as PTP for their starting pitching staff. Including one year deals for Michael Wacha, Chris Archer, Collin McHugh and Rich Hill.
To be fair, swapping out Blake Snell and Charlie Morton for those guys will almost certainly be a net loss for that rotation.
I get this. The starting pitching acquisition philosophy between the Rays organization and the Angels organization maybe similar, but the motivation behind each one is different. The Rays invest in 90 percentile injury prone veterans to hold down the fort for a portion or all of the season until the rookies can graduate into a full time role. The Angels, on the other hand ,are investing in below market mediocre veteran starting pitchers who are place holders until somebody or just about anybody can emerge out of the farm system to complete a quality start. Due to financial constraints, the Rays have no choice to but to adopt this methodology. We, unfortunately, suffer these results due to a self induced affliction. This is kind of like when Jackie Autry would try to justify to everyone that the Angels were a small market franchise so she could could get revenue sharing dollars.
It’s a small market, after all… (sing along).
Rays are not a top-3 payroll team. It’s a different analysis.
We are not a top 3 payroll no matter what the numbers say because Arte is cheap.
Uhhh, I think I’ll just go check out the 2014 Ford Taurus on the lot across the street, it looks like it has less miles and I’m a little nervous about the Carfax report on this one.
So you’re saying this one’s a lemon?
Kick the tires once again, yep a citrus grove stalwart.
I’m sold. So how much do you want for that beachfront property in Arizona?
I’ll trade you one Cobb for a Cahill, Harvey, or Teheran.
Sorry I’m not sold. I hold out hope as I do every year at this time. But I’m not convinced re Cobb. I hope I am wrong.
Completely justifiable. I’m still not all that convinced myself.
At least Bundy had a few more inspiring underlying things in his favor. Can’t convince myself on this one. Barria will probably replace him in June/July and we’ll be clamoring for a SP at the deadline that the Padres will acquire.
I hate that this sounds so accurate
Player Perfomance in Baseball = 33.3% Skill + 33.3% Mental Attitude + 33.3% Luck.
.01111111111111% Run Production
.01111111111111% Team Defense
.01111111111111% Catcher Calls
Teheran, Cahill, Matt Harvey all agree that Cobb (and Quintana) are going to breakout as the high-end pitchers we need to compete for a WS this year.
What did Blanton have to say?
Let’s bring the whole gang back together and roll out a Harvey-Cahill-Teheran-Cobb-Blanton rotation
Then let men fear!
Only if we pick up Cody Allen to lock down those leads.
And we hope for no TJS, yup that will put us to the top.
“In 2019, balls hit against him had the highest average exit velocity (94.9 mph) of those hit against all major league pitchers, and he gave up the highest percentage of hard-hit balls in MLB (60.0%)”
Otherwise pretty good!
In all fairness, he only pitched in three games in 2019. But the 2020 batted ball numbers ain’t pretty either!
Darn it I really wish the MLB would get on with it so we can Fire Callaway and bring in the new pitching coach ASAP. I know we have almost certainly built a list of guys to hire as soon as a move can be made. I also know that, as of now, the pitchers and coach aren’t doing anything together. But I’d really like this loose end tied up now.
FWIW, this is from Fabian Ardaya on Twitter:
“ Angels GM Perry Minasian said he could not comment on the ongoing Mickey Callaway investigation, but said the club has been reviewing its vetting process for new hires.”
At this late juncture, I think we have no choice but are going to find out if Matt is in fact Wise
Even if Cobb’s split-finger is a “legitimately good pitch” is loses effectiveness when a four-seamer or real fastball is not present.
Without a true heater hitters will simply lay off the splitter and hunt straight fastballs. It is the threat of the good heater that really makes a split effective. This is what we saw in Ohntani’s debut start with the Halos. He had a four-seamer upwards of 95-96 mph which made the split a truly effective pitch.
There is a reason Cobb did not get people out the last couple of seasons.
Yeah. My hope is the velocity bump is real and perhaps there’s a different approach to how much/where Cobb throws the fastball.
I’m also curious if he can work in 3-4 inning stints and piggyback with one of the younger starters (Sandoval, Barria). I’m not sure I want to see Cobb going 5 innings all that often.
Agree. I don’t see him as more than a four inning or five inning guy at most. Even then I think he’s going to be giving up runs.
Also, having a whole staff of guys like this is going to considerably stress and tax our bullpen.
This is really how important having a stud starter was/is; a guy that you can hand the ball to every fifth day and he’ll get you 7 good innings every time, and sometimes 8.
That helps the pen so much. Alas, we don’t have that guy.
I am not sure how many of that guy were even avaiable. Is Bauer that guy? Snell isn’t. Darvish?
I am not sure any of the second tier were. Doing well with what is/was on the market, methinks.
And finding a strategy that may play to our strengths would help (fingers crossed).
Disagree on Snell. He definitely IS that guy. He qualifies as an ace in my book.
Of course even an ace will from time to time have a bad outing. But the overwhelming majority are quality starts.
Darvish has an injury history so there is always some uncertainty. I am not a huge Darvish fan. But I would have been thrilled if we had traded a Marsh package for Snell.
And Bauer definitely is. Dodgers are not dumb. They would not be forking over 40 mil per for a non-ace.
Snell isn’t a 7 or 8 inning guy, I think was his point. And he’s not. Or at least hasn’t been.
Yeah, between Snell’s lower inning totals and injuries he’s had recently, I can at least understand the hesitation w/ projecting him as an ace. I think he’s a high-risk #2 starter, which is obviously still better than anybody the Angels will roll out as of now.
If that is what he meant, then I get it.
However, that limited usage is more a function of him pitching for the Rays and the philosophy they use.
They pretty much always limit the starter and then turn the game over to their deep pen, which works well for them.
Of course they might have been better served leaving him in longer in that deciding game of the World Series. : )
In any case, it is not about any inherent limitations in Blake Snell or his lack of ability to do it.
I was referring to your ‘give the ball to him and you get 7 good innings, sometimes 8’. Snell is good, great even. But hasn’t been proven to consistently pitch late into games.
Bauer has averaged around 5.5 innings per start, though 6.5 since 2018.
Darvish averaged 6.5 in 2020, but only 5.5 the year before.
I guess my point is the 8 inning every start guy is few and far between, and those guys weren’t available (at any price). If we acquired guys to pitch 5 innings consistently for 5M, that is a good deal.
In my defense I said sometimes going 8 innings, with the emphasis being on 7 innings. I feel Snell could do that.
As for recent history he would not be given the chance to go 7 by the Rays very often for the reason/s I stated. But I feel he COULD do that for us fairly frequently if we asked it of him.
Of course the entire league is trending towards shorter outings by starters, so that comes into play also…
And I felt Snell could have gone longer in that WS game when he got pulled.
As for Bauer, I was not aware his avg innings per start were that low. That surprises me a little. I would however still feel comfortable and confident with him starting Game 1 of a playoff series and thus categorize him as an ace.
That is all fair enough. I agree they shouldn’t have pulled Snell.
There are guys that have Ace stuff. Maybe Bauer is one of those (I am not completely convinced, as it is a relatively new thing for him).
I guess my point is that we conflate great stuff (hand the ball to someone in the playoffs) with consistently deep into the games all regular season. They are not the same. Trusting someone to be competitive or even shut down the other team for 6 innings is a great thing – and we should really expect more depth consistently from even the top players. The game has evolved.
No one pitches more than 6.5 innings a start on average. Not even the aces.
Wendy’s also agrees
Does it matter in the end? You still have to get a team to trade us Snell or Darvish for what we have to offer. I can conjure up plenty of pitchers I wish we had and then get huffy because we don’t acquire them via FA or trade but it doesn’t change the fact that Morton and Wheeler didn’t want to come here and Hoyer and RaysBrain didn’t want our prospects all that much. Who gives a shit if a guy has an extra 30 pitches in him if his wife wants to live in Vermont or whatever? Simple location preference has aced us out of Corbin, Cole, Wheeler, Strausberg and Morton just to name a few of late. If we want guys at all, much less guys who can go 7 innings, we will likely have to develop them.
Geez…..didn’t realize that Dana Point is such a dump compared to the Potomac Beltway or anywhere in Los Angeles County. I like the low taxes and very cheap cost of living in those two venues too! Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke and Trevor Bauer must all know something that we all don’t…..
I am not a Darvish fan either but it has nothing to do with his pitching. It has everything to do with that cheesy naked picture that came out when he was originally signed.
Darvish made too much sense based on his production, fairly affordable contract, and small prospect cost it took to obtain him. I’m still perplexed as to why the Angels weren’t more aggressive there.
I just don’t think anyone’s trading us a good pitchers for prospects in the teens of our top 30 the way the Cubs did for the Padres.
Trying to give Perry the benefit of the doubt I’d say he didn’t want to trade one of his few assets until he evaluated them.
Say Jordyn Adams really is what people thinks Adell could be.
For one thing, pursuing somebody aggressively makes the price go up.
What if the Angels made a comparable offer and theirs just didn’t get picked?
Nope. Sorry. Anytime the Angels don’t trade for a guy it’s because they are stupid and just didn’t make an offer that was as good as other teams if at all. If they don’t sign a guy it’s because they are stupid and cheap. The self made billionaire owner and the pile of Mensa baseball brains in the FO who have been around ACTUAL baseball teams their whole lives are paste eating morons. The only smart people associated with the Angels are the fans who comment on interweb sites.
We need 3 of those 7 inning plus pitchers. Anything less and the bull pen arms are toast in July.
That would be great. Who are they?
Putting on my rosiest glasses, I think Perry realizes he doesn’t have a ton of quality innings from the rotation. That limiting pitch counts and time through the order will be important, so he has multiple long relief options.
Barria is out of options and likely the lock for long reliever/swingman. Pena can also go multiple innings and has one option year left. Sandoval, Guerra, Suarez, all have options or are on minors deals. Slegers has an option.
So Perry does have some middle relief depth that can be rotated through AAA to try to keep guys fresh.
Yah. I think their hope is that he can be a “two times through the order” starter followed by guys like Sleger, Pena, Sandoval, Barria types. His fastball velo ticking up would be nice, but his splitter is important all on it’s own. Cutters and splitters can be effective all on their own, just ask Mike Scott and Mariano Rivera, both had similar fastballs to Cobb. You just can’t let hitters see that splitter 15 times each. Lots of things have to work right for Cobb, but it’s not impossible to see why PTP/Maddon wanted him at the price he’s at for us.
Cutter is not quite the same as the splitter. The Cutter is more like a true fastball and the split acts like a breaking pitch.
Of course you mention Rivera who is probably the best single example of a pitcher in the history of MLB who lived off of (and lived well) one pitch — the cutter. He had a unique grip and with it got insane late movement. That is what made it so difficult to barrel up. It came out of his hand looking like a straight fastball but “cut” or bore in on the hitter. He produced a lot of jam shots and pop ups as a result.
Not fair to use Mariano as an example of living off of one pitch. There was nobody like him. The exception that proves the rule.
OK. Tanaka, Kirby Yates, John Lester, Samardzija, Jansen…. those are the best examples of pedestrian pitchers with a cutter/splitter I could think of that aren’t the no fair Rivera/Scott. If you have a good one of those pitches you can get work done with a meh fastball.
Why don’t we just pay more for good baseball people from TB, MILW, and CLEV ( all low budget teams who make us look stupid……because we are! ) and start poaching the top NCAA college baseball programs too? SEC BTW is also good at baseball not just football. 💪
These changes start from the top, which means Arte Moreno needs to make serious systemic changes. Hiring a true President of Baseball Ops and having a GM, thus moving Arte out of the picture, is a good start.
I’m not sure what Arte has to do with the Cobb pick up other than budget. As to pouching guys from good orgs, etc isn’t that what we’ve done? Not to tell you how to do your job or hand assignments out to you, but it might be cool to gather together an overview of PTP’s background and all the guys he’s brought into the FO since being hired. I know I liked what I saw when each was hired.
because players win games?
Kind of like what the Dodgers did?
Have to hope the ground ball rate continues and a handful of home runs are turned into out in the larger West ballparks.
I don’t think those are outrageous hopes, but health is a legitimate concern. Maybe the six man rotation helps a bit there.
Health is my biggest concern, especially trying to make the jump from a condensed season to a full season. At his age and with his injury history, there’s plenty of risk.
Plus a handful of HRs turned into outs bc of a deadened ball
Nice try, but not particularly convincing. Two of the factors (stadium and deadened ball) are irrelevant. They might make Cobb’s personal stats look better, but they help the opposing pitcher as much as him, so they don’t help Cobb win games.
The change in division has some relevance. Cobb only has to keep opponents from outperforming the Angels’ lineup, which is an easier task than keeping them from outperforming the Orioles’ lineup.
It’s nice to know there is some upside potential on pitch selection and command, but even if we assume he’ll be good #5, with the potential to be a decent #4, he’s still a back-end of the rotation pitcher on a team that desperately needs a #1 or #2. And to top it off, he isn’t an innings-eater either.
Here’s my final thought. What happens if Cobb has a career year and outperforms expectations? Pretty much nothing. His career year won’t be good enough to move the needle. The Angels are again relying on hopes and dreams. Specifically, the hopes that Bundy’s improvement is sustainable, that Ohtani will finally stay healthy and pitch to his potential.
Your points are well-taken and quite frankly, I don’t disagree about the sentiment. Even if Cobb does hit some of these best-case marks, he’s still probably a league-average-ish starter.
The Angels are basically banking on fully healthy seasons from starters and league-average production from the newcomers (Cobb and Quintana). I think there’s far too much risk in this scenario, which is why I wanted them to acquire a better starter OR go sign someone like Odorizzi now.
Yes, let’s also get a Paxton/Odorizzi/Walker. One of them (and maybe Rosenthal) and we are all happy, no?
It’s insane to me that pitchers and catchers report five days from now and all three of those starters are still available. We sign one of them and Cobb probably goes to the bullpen for long relief.
We might not be able to get them on a minor league deal, but their price has to be dropping, right? Unless their agent wants them to hold out (someone will get injured in Spring Training, right?, or someone will need them during the season (someone playing on an Indian Burial Ground or something 🙂 ).
I don’t see Cobb not being Bauer as a knock on Cobb. We (almost all) advocated getting a 5M or so SP.
Sure, we would also like a #1 (if money grew on billboards), and I bet lots of us would still like a Odorizzi/Paxton/Walker – but a Cobb can’t hurt – keeps us from starting Dillon Peters .
Fair point. Let’s look at it from that perspective. 6-man rotation, starting with Bundy, Canning, Heaney, Quintana, Ohtani. Add Odorizzi and that’s a full rotation.
Cobb pushes out Canning (who has options). I think that makes the rotation a bit weaker, but it does add depth, which is good. Of course, Cobb isn’t exactly an inning-eater and he is an injury risk, so adding him to the rotation creates as much need for depth as it fills.
The real killer, however, is that the Angels bought a back-of-the-rotation starter with a prospect. I don’t care how good/bad that prospect is, the Angels should have been receiving a prospect in exchange for taking on Cobb’s salary.
If the budget is too tight to allow the Angels to take on salary and still pursue someone like Odorizzi, then it would have been better to forego Cobb, focus on getting the #2 and then looking for depth with whatever is left over.
We didn’t take Cobb’s salary.
I wish we were in the position to take on his salary and a prospect. Wish we could have been doing that all along during the meh years. Plus we’d still have Will Wilson. But alas, Go Cobb, Go Angels.
That was my point. They should have taken the salary and kept the prospect, and if they don’t have the budget to do that and sign another pitcher, then they should have waited on the deal and gone shopping first.
I can think of a helluva lot better ways to spend excess payroll moneys (assuming we have any) than trying to buy Baltimore’s prospects.
I don’t no much about Baltimore’s prospects, so you may very well be right.
How about his Salad?
It was tossed.
Fun graphic. That’s from the 9/11 game in Yankee Stadium last year. Cobb pitched 4 innings, gave up 7 hits and 5 earned runs on 3 HRs. He did ring up 5 strikeouts and issued only one walk. I’ll drink the Kool-Aid and believe this game was not representative of the 2021 version of Alex Cobb.
I guess I picked the WRONG game to use the video from. Then again, there are a lot of those for Cobb over the past few years.
You are totally wrong because the video clip you used was from a game he got bombed in. If you had found clips from the few games he pitched well in, on the other hand, everything would have worked out OK in 2021 for Cobb.