Pittsburgh Pirates: Should Alex Cobb Be on the Radar?

(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Editorial: The Pittsburgh Pirates enter the off-season looking to find a way to get the team back into the playoff hunt.  Adding a starting pitcher could help put the team back on track.  Is Alex Cobb that pitcher?

The Pittsburgh Pirates had only one consistent pitcher last year and that was Trevor Williams.  They saw mixed results from Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole each time out.  Chad Kuhl seemed to have figured things out toward the end of the year, but he still may project better in the bullpen.  Ivan Nova had a good first two months and a disastrous last four.  Tyler Glasnow is a huge question mark and really showed nothing of promise at the big league level.

Let’s face it, the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation needs some stability next year.  Obviously you expect Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon to fill the top two spots, but after those two it’s hard to see how the back three really shake out.  All the other options have such big question marks around them. A team looking to make it back to the playoffs cannot have these type of question marks in the rotation.  The Pittsburgh Pirates should consider adding Alex Cobb this offseason for multiple reasons.

Alex Cobb For Number Three Starter

Alex Cobb is a very good and underrated pitcher.  Cobb has pitched his whole career in Tampa Bay.  He pitched for the major league club from 2011-2017, but was drafted in 2006.  Over those years he has pitched in 115 games and has posted 700 innings.  For his career he has a 3.50 ERA to boast.  Also, he has a FIP of 3.62 and a xFIP of 3.68 suggesting that his numbers are about where they should be.

How does he have his success?  Well, it starts with his ability to pitch to contact, something the Pittsburgh Pirates love.  In his career, he owns a career 54 percent groundball rate. With his style of pitching he does not possess an impressive strikeout rate, his career K/9 sits at 7.68.  Usually, a number that low is a concern, but he does not walk a lot of batters, just 2.6 per nine innings.  Also, unlike other low strikeout pitchers, he does not give up a lot of home runs or get hit hard.  In terms of hard contact, his percentage is about 31 percent, which is league average.  Also, his home run rate is 0.80, which we can compare to Ivan Nova whose rate was 1.40 last season.

Contract Estimate

Cobb also could be had on a relatively cheap deal and with a shorter length.  Cobb has good numbers as shown above, but nothing stellar that would lead teams to give him big money. He does not strike a lot of guys out, his fastball sits at an average of 92 miles per hour, and he has some injury history.  MLB Trade Rumors projects him to get a contract of four years at $48 million, so an average salary of $12 million a year.  There is not a reason the Pittsburgh Pirates cannot afford to give a legitimate number three starter that kind of money.  In this market a number three starter can get that, if not more.

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Now there are some reservations with Cobb.  For one, his injury history.  Lots of fans in baseball know how good he can be.  However, as mentioned earlier he has only made 115 starts over his seven year career.  That averages out to be just over 16 starts a season.  Now, this is because of three significant injuries.

The first one was his rookie season when a blood clot was found in his chest.  He missed the last two months of the season. The second major injury was in 2013 when he was struck in the head by a line drive.  He suffered a concussion and missed two months of the season.  Then in 2015, he was diagnosed with a torn UCL. He underwent Tommy-John Surgery and missed all of 2015 and most of 2016.  So, yes he has had some major injuries, but two of the three are not pitching related and simply are atypical.  Should these three really be perceived as a pitcher having injury issues?  Or just bad luck?  It is not like he has a nagging shoulder pain year after year or a hamstring problem.

Qualifying Offer

The other issue is that he was offered a qualifying offer.  In years prior, this would immediately take the Pittsburgh Pirates out of consideration.  Under the old CBA teams would forfeit their first round pick for a qualified free agent (top 10 protected).  However, under the new system, there are tiers of what teams would have to forfeit.  The Pittsburgh Pirates fall in the lowest category, meaning they give up the least amount.  If they sign a player for under $50 million they do not forfeit anything.  If they go over that, they have to give up their third-highest draft pick, which would be their second round pick next year, as the Bucs have a Competitive Balance pick at number 31.  So the penalty would not set the Pittsburgh Pirates back as much as it would in years prior.

Next: Another Pitching Target

Is Alex Cobb worth the investment?  For the Pittsburgh Pirates, he would be worth it.  Entering the 2018 season the biggest question mark, other than third base, is likely the starting rotation.  The Pittsburgh Pirates have some young upside players, but with the youthfulness of those players, the Pirates also have a lot of risk of them not working out.  Cobb would provide a third legitimate pitcher to help stabilize the rotation. Meanwhile, this could cause a trickle-down that would allow the Bucs to put Chad Kuhl in the bullpen where he likely will really flourish.   Cobb fits the mold of what the Pittsburgh Pirates look and should get a contract that the Bucs are comfortable paying.

*All Stats are Courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

*MLBTR Projections and Predictions