Tampa Bay Rays

Alex Cobb, David Price Show Readiness to Lead Deep Postseason Run for Rays

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 3, 2013

Everyone may want to make a big fuss over Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke or Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, but there's a one-two punch that has a head start in its domination of baseball's postseason.

Their names: David Price and Alex Cobb. Their team: the Tampa Bay Rays. Their status:

Dangerous.

On Wednesday night, Cobb led the Rays to a 4-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the American League Wild Card Game, allowing eight hits and a walk with five strikeouts over 6.2 shutout innings.

As for Price, he was last seen pitching a complete game against the Texas Rangers in an AL wild-card tiebreaker on Monday nighttechnically a regular-season game, but, meh, sue me. He scattered seven hits and a walk with four strikeouts, ultimately allowing only two earned runs in the 5-2 victory.

So make it a total of 15.2 innings for the two pitchers the Rays have used to launch themselves into a Division Series matchup with the Boston Red Sox, and only two earned runs. That's a 1.18 ERA.

Yeah, yeah...small sample size and stuff. But if you're determined not to take the Price/Cobb gruesome twosome seriously, I recommend you reconsider. Beyond what they've done so far, there are reasons to believe that they have the goods to help push this Rays team deep into the postseason.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 30:  David Price #14 of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts against the Texas Rangers in the American League Wild Card tiebreaker game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 30, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/G
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Based solely on his accomplishments, David Price should need no introduction. He's a former No. 1 overall pick. He's a three-time All-Star. He won the AL Cy Young last year. He's tall. He's bearded. All good things.

Regarding more current events, what Price has going for him is this: He's hot.

Price hit the disabled list with a triceps injury in May, at the time taking a 5.24 ERA with him. Including his start against the Rangers on Monday, Price proceeded to compile a 2.53 ERA and hold opponents to a .591 OPS in 18 starts following his return. He's pitching as well now as he's ever been, which is saying something.

Cobb, however, is even hotter.

Cobb was forced onto the DL in June following a scary line drive to his head. After sitting out a couple months, he returned in August and went on to compile a 2.41 ERA over his last nine regular-season starts.

Factor in his performance against the Indians, and Alex Cobb's hot stretch now amounts to an even 10 starts and a 2.18 ERA. 

While they won't be available to kick off the series against the Red Sox in proper fashion, Joe Maddon will be able to pitch Price in Game 2 and Cobb in Game 3. Surely much to their chagrin, the Red Sox aren't going to be able to avoid Tampa's two hottest pitchers.

But there's more to the Price/Cobb partnership than just the temperatures of their recent bodies of work. Another key reason these two make for such a good duo is because of how different they are.

Price keeps things simple with the following formula: lots of fastballs and lots of strikes.

Per Brooks Baseball, Price's changeup and curveball accounted for less than 30 percent of his pitches in the regular season. Over 70 percent of his offerings were either four-seamers, sinkers or cutters. Facing him means seeing hard stuff virtually all the time.

That's one sure bet, and the other sure bet is that Price is going to be around the zone. He led the American League with a 1.3 BB/9, and was more efficient after his injury. Before his injury, 66 percent of Price's pitches were strikes. After it, 70 percent were for strikes.

It was par for the course for David Price against the Rangers. According to Brooks Baseball, 98 of Price's 118 pitches were fastballs of some sort or another. He also threw 81 strikes out of those 118 pitches (almost 69 percent).

So facing Price means having to be geared up for hard stuff in the zone—all coming from a lefty arm slot and zipping across the plate in the mid-90s.

Conjure a notion of the exact opposite of that, and Cobb is basically it.

Cobb, 25, isn't the strike-throwing machine that Price is, in part because he doesn't pound the zone as often. Baseball Info Solutions (via FanGraphs) put Price's Zone% at 47.4 this season. Cobb's checked in at 44.3. He's a guy who tends to toy with the zone more than Price.

It's not so much that Cobb doesn't have Price's control. Maybe he does, but it's hard to tell in light of how relatively seldom he throws his heat. 

Indeed, Cobb's pitch selection...well, it's interesting. It's become doubly interesting since his return from the DL, as the numbers can show.

So yeah, Alex Cobb throws hard stuff about half as often as Price. But for him, the real change since his injury is the increased use in his curveball. He's now throwing it and his splitter about an equal amount.

This has paid off. Check out the increased effectiveness of his curve.

Cobb's hook is as good as it already was at racking up the ground balls, but it's been getting him more strikes and a ton more whiffs.

But the cool stuff doesn't end there. Check out what's happened with Cobb's splitter.

Same thing. Cobb's splitter's ground-ball habit is about the same, but it's gotten him more strikes and more whiffs.

Cobb has thus been able to proceed as an above-average ground-ball magnet, and the extra whiffs have naturally boosted his strikeout habit. He punched out 22.2 percent of batters pre-injury. In the nine starts after, he punched out 24.7 percent.

Against the Indians, Cobb only got the five punch-outs. But according to Brooks Baseball, his curve and splitter were responsible for six of his nine whiffs. He also got 10 ground balls to five fly balls.

So seeing Price in one game and Cobb in the next? That's no easy ticket. It means adjusting to two completely different styles of pitching in short order. That it means going up against two guys who are on top of their games is icing on the cake (or not, if you're a guy who actually has to hit against them).

I really shouldn't say "think Johnson and Schilling, you guys." But...think Johnson and Schilling, you guys.

Granted, the other two starters the Rays have to throw at teams aren't slouches. Matt Moore has filthy stuff and can make hitters look utterly hopeless when he's locating. Chris Archer throws in the mid-90s with a slider that's overpowering when it's on.

But there are catches when it comes to Moore and Archer. Did you notice them?

The catch with Moore is the "when he's locating." His command can come and go, and he will walk guys. His 4.55 BB/9 was one of the highest in the American League this season.

As for Archer, the catch with him is the "when it's on" part about his slider. It can be inconsistent, and it doesn't draw as many whiffs as a good slider should. It's part of the reason that, in general, Archer doesn't miss as many bats as he should.

As talented as Moore and Archer are, they're both flawed pitchers. Given how good the postseason is at sniffing flaws out and exploiting them, there's a natural limit to how much the Rays can rely on them.

Price and Cobb aren't totally without flaws, mind you; they've just done a really good job of hiding theirs away over the last couple months. And they've shown this week that their hiding spots can hold up in the pressure cooker that is the month of October.

By riding them to the ALDS, the Rays have already put themselves on the backs of David Price and Alex Cobb. From here, it will be up to the two of them to determine where the end of the line is for Tampa Bay.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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