(*) FANALYTICS: The Alex Cobb Saga
If there is one organization that you have to pay attention to when it comes to player development, it's the Tampa Bay Rays. How many major league pitching staffs can you look at and find a full rotation of highly productive arms, and all home grown?
So, coming into this season, I was particularly enamored with following Alex Cobb. Here was a pitcher who had consistently improved his ERA at every level. At Triple-A last year, he had a 1.87 ERA with a 9.4 strikeout rate and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.4. Those are all elite level numbers.
But the Tampa rotation was solid and healthy; he'd start the year in the minors. Still, I was thrilled to find him available when my second pick of the reserve round came up in the Tout Wars-AL experts league. I grabbed him.
Now understand, in a deep 12-team AL-only league like Tout, every roster spot—active and reserve—is precious. It is tough to justify holding onto players as speculations, particularly with this season's flood of injuries. Any able-bodied player is going to trump a wager on future potential.
But I was lucky in the early-going. Despite a struggling team, I was able to keep my roster decisions balanced between maintaining active players and positioning my team for six long months of roster churn.
Then May 14 came. I had to make a bunch of moves to accommodate Mark Reynolds' visit to the disabled list, Michael Taylor's demotion and an ill-advised $0 FAAB purchase of Kelvin Herrera. A decision had to be made on some reserves, and it had to be made based on how blocked each player was on his respective organization's depth chart. And unfortunately, bats had more value than arms.
And there was Alex Cobb, who wasn't cooperating at all. While his peripherals remained strong in Triple-A, his ERA at that point had popped to 4.14 and his WHIP was an ungodly 1.51. All five members of the Rays rotation were healthy and productive at that time. Cobb might be blocked for nearly the whole season, like Matt Moore was last year and Jeremy Hellickson was the year before that. I took a breath and made the nasty cut.
And quickly, as if I had awakened the gods of fantasy karma, the fates kicked in with a vengeance. One day later, on May 15, Jeff Niemann took a line drive off his leg, fracturing it. He'd be out 4-6 weeks.
The Rays had a choice as to who to promote to the rotation. They could have chosen Wade Davis, but noooooo... they picked Cobb.
Now, I could have placed a FAAB bid the following week to get him back on my team, but the situation was so demoralizing that I just couldn't bring myself to place more than a token bid. He ultimately went for $31 out of Chris Liss' $100 budget, way more than I'd pay anyway.
I had only one hope left. Alex Cobb had to stink up the joint.
But of course, he hasn't. He's held his own, despite a few rough outings. When he shut out the Marlins on two hits with 10 strikeouts last week, it was like he tore my heart right out of my chest. If he keeps pitching like this, the Rays will be hard-pressed to remove him from the rotation, even when Niemann comes back. This is a freakin' nightmare.
I know that we play a game where we often have to make tough decisions. But I wonder, in these days of high volatility, whether we should be relaxing some rules rather than tightening the grip. In Tout, we are limited to just four reserve players, a rule intended to beef up an ever-depleting free agent pool. We've enacted other rules intended to yield the same result.
But it's not working. This week, our free agent pool consists of 15 batters, none that get more than 10 AB per week, and 55 pitchers, nearly all middle relievers. There are 51 players on the disabled list. That's just the American League.
Now, there is a whole separate discussion about breaking away from archaic rules and embracing the new realities of the way the game is played today. We'll have that discussion too. Soon.
But right now, it's me coming to grips with a bad decision, or a good decision with a bad outcome, or a decision that perhaps didn't even have to be made. It's been agonizing, in a high level league where there is no room for error, and fancy strategies are pointless when your DL list has more players than your pitching staff.
I can't get past it. I've been lying awake at night dreaming about Florida. Not sparkling white sand and cool beach breezes. My dreams have been incessant visions of a Tampa Bay Ray striking out Marlin after Marlin after Marlin.
Curse you, Alex Cobb!