Halfway through his first season on a four-year deal with the Orioles, right-hander Alex Cobb has found his progress impeded seemingly every time he’s trying to go from a jog to a run.
Tuesday’s start against the Philadelphia Phillies presents another opportunity to restart his progress after a frustrating outing last week against the Seattle Mariners. And though Cobb said he’s never dealt with the volatility in his delivery and the consequent results this season, manager Buck Showalter said there’s “nothing discouraging about Alex, because we’ve seen it.
“We’ve seen it this year. Alex is going to be a good pitcher. He is a good pitcher at times this year. It’s hard. It’s hard. He’s hardened from pitching in the American League. He knows the fine line between success and failure.
“When some of his outings don’t look good statistically, you can look at two or three spots where he’s one pitch away from having a clean inning. It’s this or that, one or two little things, or we don’t make a play behind him where we don’t get scored an error.”
This season has been the manifestation of some severe misfortune for Cobb, some caused early by his late signing in spring training and most the result of some batted ball luck.
He enters Tuesday with a 6.75 ERA in 14 starts, with his .355 batting average on balls in play the highest it’s been in any full season in his career, according to FanGraphs. Cobb’s 4.53 xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) — which calculates ERA-based things a pitcher can control such as walks, strikeouts and fly balls, using the league average — indicates a pitcher who could be better in different circumstances.
That’s little solace for Cobb, who has put the blame squarely on himself for his struggles this year. A month into the season, when he’d allowed the most ground balls not converted into outs in baseball, he said it was on him to miss bats when such things happened.
It’s still the case as the calendar turns to July, with his 46 non-out ground balls are the second-most in baseball behind Dallas Keuchel’s 48.
When he’s pitched well, he’s seemed as if he’s wanted to simply bottle it up and be able to take those mechanics and those feelings with him. But it’s fleeting. After he pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves on June 22, Cobb said the indicator for success was when he got weak ground balls on his mistakes. That meant, to him, he had the delivery to make his pitches lively enough under certain circumstances.
The next time out on Wednesday, he got four of those in the first inning, but things turned quickly after that and he allowed five runs for the seventh time in 14 outings.
On the balance of his season, excluding his rushed April, the Orioles have gotten the better version of Cobb more than the one they saw Wednesday. The odds are they will again Tuesday, considering Cobb has half of his six quality starts and a 3.33 ERA in his four starts against National League teams.