Young Ace Smackdown: Alex Cobb vs Alex Wood
This week’s smackdown pits two young hurlers named Alex — the Rays’ righty Cobb and the Braves’ lefty Wood. Both are a little light on innings this year but for different reasons. Cobb missed some time early in the season due to an oblique injury that sidelined him for a month. Wood spent a month in the bullpen due to the crowded Atlanta starting rotation. Here are their stats for the season:
|Record||9 – 7||10 – 10|
Right now the duel is too close to call. Wood has one more win and a few more strikeouts, but Cobb has fewer losses and a slight edge in both ERA and WHIP. Both have been fantastic. We are going to have to dig deeper to find a winner.
Their stats are remarkably similar so it is not surprising that their ranks on the major fantasy baseball sites are similar too:
|Rank Among SPs||Cobb||Wood|
Again, the race here is neck and neck with only a couple starting pitchers ranking between our contestants. Both Cobb and Wood would rank better if they had been in the starting rotation all year long. They are trailing the league leaders by about 50 innings. If they had pitched those extra frames they would have racked up a lot more Wins and Strikeouts and therefore would rank higher. Their ERA and WHIP rate stats are right there with the best pitchers in baseball and are the main reasons why they rank so highly despite missing so much time. The missed time effect is even more noticeable in points leagues than in roto leagues.
We can see in this chart that neither Cobb nor Wood has benefited from a tremendous amount of luck. Both are in the normal range in terms of BABIP, but both have been a little fortunate in terms of Strand Rate. Perhaps this is one reason why Cobb and Wood have been able to outperform their composite stats by a small margin:
The chart above shows that Cobb and Wood once again have nearly identical numbers. Both have slightly better ERAs than their composite stats indicate they should have. Part of this could be the lucky Strand Rates, but both of them play in ballparks that are friendly to pitchers too. Neither pitcher plays in front of a particularly good defense, with both Atlanta and Tampa Bay being middle-of-the-pack in terms of Defensive Efficiency Rating. Both players have excellent composite stats that prove they are both legitimate upper-echelon starting pitchers. Their traditional stats are not fluky in any way. We can expect both of these young starters to continue to pitch very well in the future if they stay healthy.
Wood has a small but clear edge in these strikeout and walk metrics. Wood strikes out more batters and walks fewer. In my opinion these metrics right here are the most important of all stats for pitchers. The difference is small but Wood beats Cobb in all of these critical numbers. But given the fact that Wood pitches in the National League and gets to face the opposing pitcher as a batter twice per game we should expect Wood to outperform Cobb in these rates even if both pitched identically. Once again this category is a tie and won’t help us pick a winner of the smackdown. Both pitchers perform well in these stats, just a notch or two below the best pitchers in the game.
|Fastball||91.6 mph||89.8 mph|
Cobb has the edge in speed, but that is not necessarily a reason to rank him much ahead of Wood. The extra velocity does give Cobb a bit more leeway. Velocity doesn’t by itself make one pitcher better than another, but it does offer Cobb a buffer zone to protect against a possible future drop in velocity. Dropping too far into the 80’s makes it very hard for a pitcher to get enough of a difference between his fastball and offspeed offerings to keep hitters off balance. Higher velocity also gives a pitcher a larger margin of error on mistake pitches, meaning that the pitcher is more likely to get away with a mistake pitch. The pitcher with lesser velocity has to make fewer mistakes to stay even statistically. Lefthanders can often get by with less zip on the fastball compared to right-handers.
Once again the two pitchers are similar. Both of them throw the same three pitches, but they throw them at different rates. Cobb throws a lot of off-speed pitches, whereas Wood relies very heavily on his heater (even though it is 2 mph slower than Cobb’s). Three pitches is the minimum for a starting pitcher to be successful. Ideally a starter will have 4 offerings, although lefties frequently survive with three. Cobb is unusual due to the fact he employs his changeup nearly as often as his fastball, but his changeup is so good that hitters absolutely cannot distinguish it from the fastball until it is too late.
This smackdown is unbelievably close. How can I pick one over the other? Their stats are nearly identical. Cobb has the slightly better ERA and WHIP and those stats are supported by his very slightly better FIP and SIERA as well. But Wood has better strikeout and walk rates. The kicker that wins it for Cobb is his lengthier track record of success. Cobb has thrown 479 major league innings compared to Wood’s 229 innings. I think Wood is every bit as good but he hasn’t proven it yet over the same amount of time as Cobb has. Another small point in Cobb’s favor is the solidity of his spot in the rotation. Compared to the Braves, the Rays don’t have the plethora of starting pitcher options to choose from nor the cash to obtain more in free agency. There is a slight chance that Wood could end up back in the Braves’ bullpen for stretches of time whereas Cobb is locked into the Rays’ rotation. The margin of victory in this smackdown is razor thin, but the winner is Alex Cobb.
For fantasy purposes I would highly recommend both Cobb and Wood. Both are going to be very good fantasy pitchers for several more years. Both are currently undervalued a bit due to the innings they missed having a negative effect on their rankings. There are several pitchers ranked ahead of Cobb and Wood that in my opinion are not as valuable: Lance Lynn, Phil Hughes, Danny Duffy, Rick Porcello and Ervin Santana among others. If you have one of those guys on your team I would offer him up in a trade for either Cobb or Wood.
What is your opinion? Do you agree that Cobb wins vs Wood? Why or why not? Who should be matched up in the next smackdown? Let me know in the comments below.
If you missed last week’s Young Ace Smackdown: Danny Duffy vs Jake Arrieta be sure to read it. Also check out Prospect Perspective: Nolan Arenado and Nick Castellanos are Still Elite Prospects.