St. Louis Cardinals: Alex Cobb is a good risk for the Cardinals

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 23: Starter Alex Cobb
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 23: Starter Alex Cobb /

The St. Louis Cardinals’ starting rotation is alarmingly thin, and that isn’t getting enough attention. The front office badly needs to address the appearing holes. They can start by signing a former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher. 

Taking a look at the current state of the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting rotation is a precarious and unnerving exercise. Carlos Martinez provides stability at the top and should only get better next season, but after him is a row full of nothing but question marks. 

Michael Wacha is coming off a career high 3.2 fWAR in 2017, while pitching 165.2 innings and looking his best since a 2014 shoulder injury. However, the 26-year-old right-hander saw his monthly ERA bounce around from 2.55 in April to 5.47 in May/June, then back down to 1.63 in July, 6.40 in August and finally 3.44 in September.

Adam Wainwright’s situation has been written about ad nausea on this website and I’ll leave Dr. Michael D. Miles to tell you about the plight currently hampering the former St. Louis Cardinals’ ace.

With news coming out in the past few days that Lance Lynn intends to decline the Cardinals’ qualifying offer, he’ll be wearing another uniform in 2018 and beyond. Mike Leake plays for the Seattle Mariners now after a midseason trade and Chris Carpenter isn’t walking through the door anytime soon. 

All of this is to say that the St. Louis Cardinals really only have 1 starting pitcher that they can well and truly count on entering the 2018 season.

This guy, the only reliable starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals entering 2018
This guy, the only reliable starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals entering 2018 /

Yes, I do understand Alex Reyes is returning, Luke Weaver is coming off an outstanding season, and Jack Flaherty should get more of a shot. But you should understand Reyes might take nearly all 2018 to just get back to where he would have entered 2017. Weaver barely has 100 Major League innings under his belt, and Flaherty showed that he isn’t ready for a full-time MLB starting job yet, by posting a 5.27 FIP in his six August and September starts.

I am a huge proponent of letting the young talent of the St. Louis Cardinals play and develop at the big league level next season, but I think we’re all kidding ourselves if we truly believe that a rotation with three spots occupied by Weaver, Flaherty and Alex Reyes can compete with the class of the National League.

The Cardinals clearly need to bring someone in from outside the organization. Names like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta look really nice on paper, but there’s only one free agent starting pitcher I believe St. Louis should target.

Alex Cobb is coming off an extremely important 2017 season with the Tampa Bay Rays. After losing all of 2015 and five months of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery and other arm injuries, Cobb returned this past season to throw a career high 179.1 IP while garnering a respectable 3.66 ERA and 2.4 fWAR.

All free agent signings come fraught with a certain degree of risk and Cobb would be no different.

He is coming off a significant pitching arm injury that cost him nearly two full years. Previously injured players are always at a higher risk going forward. Also, Cobb has never topped 180 innings pitched in a single season and his K/9 rate fell to a career low 6.42 in 2017. 

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And, of course, there’s this Fangraphs article in which Cobb discusses his struggle to regain control and feel for that signature split-changeup he is known for.

The concerns are certainly there regarding Cobb’s ability to miss bats as well as health concerns.

However, Cobb is still a perfect candidate to fill a hole in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation.

As he continues to put time and distance between him and the elbow surgery of two years ago, the former Rays ace will only get better. Over the first three months of the 2017 season, Cobb struggled his way to a 4.60 FIP and 15.4% strikeout rate, just 5.2 K/9. Those months coincided with the writing of the Fangraphs article and Cobb’s noted struggles with his change-up can go a long way in explaining the very low strikeout rate.

July was the low point of Cobb’s 2017 season, with the 30-year-old right-hander posting a 5.45 FIP and just a 12.7% strikeout rate, a paltry 4.2 K/9. However, over 40.1 innings in the last two months of the season, Cobb posted a 3.01 FIP, 2.88 ERA and 4.1% walk rate while striking out 8.9 hitters per 9 innings.

The further he gets away from the surgery and the better able he is to get a feel for his off speed pitches and fastball control, the better Cobb will be. Entering his age-30 season in 2018, Cobb will be nearly three full years removed from the May 2015 elbow operation and coming off a fantastic final two months of his 2017 season.

I believe a 1 year deal serves both parties very well in this scenario.

Cobb gets to play a full season for the St. Louis Cardinals while proving his value and hopefully silencing any remaining question marks surrounding him before re-hitting the open market at a still very reasonable 31-years-old. For the Cardinals, they get a good, motivated pitcher on a ‘prove it’ contract, without hampering future payroll and remaining flexible and cost-efficient in the present.

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The St. Louis Cardinals clearly need starting rotation help from outside the organization, but not the kind of high-profile help that would hamstring the future payroll and tie up a ton of money. Cobb checks a lot of boxes, while still allowing the Cardinals to be adaptable in the future. He’s a good bet that St. Louis should make.