by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Cardinals Michael Wacha was 2013s postseason darling, going 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over five starts. There’s obviously talent there, but that type of performance in the spotlight tends to linger at the forefront of people’s minds and ultimately clouds their judgment. Exactly how good is Wacha? How does he compare to another up-and-coming youngster like the Rays’ Alex Cobb?
Lets compare the two and try to determine who the better option is for 2014:
Cobb – He showed impressive strikeout stuff in 2013, posting an 8.41 K/9 over 22 starts. His 8.0 career K/9 in the minors would indicate that a regression was in order, but he gained steam as he moved up the ladder, including:
- Double-A – 9.6 (119.2 IP)
- Triple-A – 9.4 (108.2 IP)
Throw in a 9.2% SwStr% and a second half K/9 of 8.75 and there is plenty of reason to believe that Cobb could flirt with a strikeout per inning (even in the AL).
Wacha – His time in the Majors was split between the bullpen and the rotation during the regular season, so his 11.3% SwStr% and 9.05 K/9 could be deceiving. He was at 7.7 in 15 starts at Triple-A in 2013 and as a starter in the Majors he was at 7.67.
Is there upside for more strikeouts? Absolutely, as he showed in the playoffs (9.68 K/9). However that was a small sample size and it’s hard to count on. He appears to be more of an 7.7-8.2 K/9 option.
Advantage – Cobb
Cobb – Over the past two seasons in the Majors Cobb has posted BB/9 of 2.64 and 2.83. His minor league mark was 2.6, including a 2.8 at Triple-A. He was at 3.32 in the second half of 2013, but that would appear to be a worst case scenario.
His BABIP in 2013 was realistic, at .279 (21.7% line drive rate). Even if we expected a slight regression (.295 in ’12), he is looking like a 1.25 WHIP or better when coupled with his control.
Could he replicate last seasons’s 1.15? It wouldn’t be surprising, but let’s pencil him in around 1.20.
Wacha – We don’t have as much of a track record as we do with Cobb, but his control looks to be just as impressive. He had a 2.83 BB/9 as a starter in 2013 after posting a 2.0 mark at Triple-A.
He also avoided the line drive, with a 17.5% mark as a starting pitcher (.265 BABIP). Maybe that regresses a bit, but it would look like he has the same 1.20 target range as Cobb does.
Advantage – Push
Cobb – He did benefit from an 81.4% strand rate last season, but his ability to avoid the long ball is a major advantage. Over 332.1 Major League innings he’s posted a 56.7% groundball rate and 0.73 HR/9. Couple that with his strikeouts and control and, while he may not replicate last seasons’s 2.76, a mark in the low 3s is not unrealistic.
Wacha – His strand rate as a starting pitcher in the Majors was almost as favorable, at 79.5%. He also doesn’t have the same advantage of generating a significant number of groundballs (33.2% at Triple-A). He does have the NL advantage, though, which can’t be dismissed, but is it enough to overcome the overall skillset?
Advantage – It is going to be close, but Cobb has an advantage.
We all know not to chase wins and both players will have very good teams behind them. This isn’t the factor to use when making your decision.
It looks like it’s going to be close, but Cobb’s overall skill set (including a strikeout advantage) gives him the nod for me. He has more experience in the Majors as well, just further adding to his appeal.
Yes, pitching in the AL East is a strike against him but it’s hardly enough (2.70 ERA on the road). While Wacha is going to get hyped a bit more, I’d be targeting Cobb on draft day.
Sources – Fangrpahs, Baseball Reference, Minor League Central
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