2018 season recap: Slow start, strong finish for Alex Cobb

Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb went 5-15 with an ERA of 4.90 in 2018, his highest ERA in any full season in his career. But a season that started terribly for him got better as it went along - a lot better - providing hope for what he might provide the rotation in 2019.

Signed to a four-year deal worth $57 million last March, Cobb had an ERA of 6.41 and a WHIP of 1.576 in the first half. But in 11 starts after the All-Star break, he went 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP. His ERA was fifth in the American League among pitchers that made at least 10 starts after the break.

With an ERA that was 13.11 after three starts and 7.14 after 12, getting it under 5.00 to finish the year was an accomplishment for Cobb. After he signed late with the Orioles on March 21, he had an abbreviated spring training and that turned out to not be a good idea, as he struggled so badly in his early starts and that lingered into June.

But once he got it going, he pretty much kept it going. Late in the year however, he was slowed by blister issues and he threw just four pitches without recording an out in his final start of the season on Sept. 23 at New York.

Cobb-Orange-v-TEX-sidebar.jpgIn the first half, opposing hitters posted this slash line versus Cobb: .313/.358/.541 with an OPS of .899. In the second half those numbers were .232/.288/.377 with a .665 OPS. That was more like it, but still not as good as the OPS against of .619 posted by Cobb when he went 10-9 with an ERA of 2.87 for Tampa Bay in 2014.

In May 2015, Cobb had Tommy John surgery and he didn’t begin to truly return to form until 2017, when he was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Rays. But the poor start last year ensured his final numbers were not going to be able to match his 2017 stats.

After his surgery, it took Cobb quite a while to get a real feel for his split-finger fastball, a strong out pitch for him. It was a pitch he threw 38 percent of the time in 2014. But as he struggled to get comfortable again with that pitch, he threw it just 14 percent of the time two years ago and 23 percent last year.

But the pitch was clearly getting better for him with the Orioles as the season got longer. He threw it 37 percent in August and 30 percent in September. And while AL batters hit .300 off his splitter in June, the batting average against that pitch was .177, .175 and .100 over the last three months.

Having a full offseason to prepare for 2019 and put those blister issues behind him should be big for Cobb, who doesn’t have to go through the uncertainty of free agency this time. He should hit the ground running in spring training and the Orioles hope pick up statistically where he left off late last season.

Signed for three more years, a resurgent Cobb could garner some trade interest among contenders, although being owed $43 million over the next three years might temper that interest.

But an effective Cobb can head up an Orioles rotation that ranked last in the AL with an ERA of 5.70 in 2017 and last at 5.48 last summer. Someone needs to cover some innings and provide some quality. And while Cobb signed with a team he felt was going to be a 2018 contender, he now finds himself on a rebuilding club. But he also showed last year that he’s very ready to help the other young pitchers on the staff and provide some leadership.

Another successful tailgate: We don’t know if outfielder Adam Jones will return to the Orioles in 2019, as he is a free agent. We do know his latest #StayHungry Purple Tailgate was an incredible success, held before Sunday’s Ravens game.

The event raised a record amount of $125,010 for the Boys and Girls Club of Baltimore and the Living Classrooms Foundation. Jones likes to say the event brings fans together for “Baltimore helping Baltimore.”

Jones has done so much in the Baltimore community over the years and this was just the latest example. The event is so popular, there’s a hope he can keep it alive whether his Orioles career continues or even if he’s with another team.

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