LA Angels 2021 spring training guide: who gets the final rotation spots?

Alex Cobb (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Alex Cobb (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Angels
Alex Cobb (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Alex Cobb RHP

Last off-season, the Angels traded four minor leaguers for a struggling Baltimore Orioles starter. That player was Dylan Bundy. As you already know, that trade worked out, as Bundy quickly became the ace of the Halos rotation.

Bundy was considered a top prospect who never reached his potential, this in part to a series of unfortunate injuries early in his career. In his final year as a member of the Orioles, he recorded a 4.79 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, 4.73 FIP, and 9.0 K/9 over 161.2 IP. The Angels took a chance on him, and it paid off in spades, as he broke out with a 3.29 ERA, 1.036 WHIP, 2.95 FIP, and 9.9 K/9 over 65.2 IP, while finishing ninth in the AL Cy Young voting.

The Angels are attempting to repeat history. They’ve traded for Alex Cobb, who for the Orioles in 2020, recorded a 4.30 ERA, 1.338 WHIP, 4.87 FIP, and 6.5 K/9 over 52.1 IP. While his traditional stats aren’t horrendous, his Statcast numbers are. He finished in the sixth percentile in exit velocity, fourth percentile in hard-hit rate, eight percentile in xwOBA and xERA, second percentile in xBA, and 11th percentile in xSLG.

The Angels are hoping Alex Cobb can regain the form of his best pitching days.

So what exactly were the Angels thinking with this move? There are a few motivating factors that stick out to me. The first is that he is a former player of Joe Maddon. This may seem like an odd reason to get a player, but it is part of a trend of these offseason acquisitions. The Angels have also added ex-Maddon types such as Dexter Fowler, Jon Jay, and Jose Quintana. It begs the question of just how much pull Maddon has with the front office, but that is a topic for another article.

The second factor, and probably the most important one, is that Cobb is a predominantly ground-ball pitcher. In 2020, he induced ground balls 54.2 percent of the time, which resulted in a 4.55 ground ball to fly ball ratio. While the Angels lost the best defensive shortstop in Andrelton Simmons’s league, they replaced him with Jose Iglesias, who is none-to-shabby on the defensive side himself. With Anthony Rendon, Iglesias, David Fletcher, and Jared Walsh manning the infield, the Angels front office felt confident enough that their lockdown defense will help Cobb bounce back.

What is concerning to me is that if Cobb shows no sign of improvement this spring, continues to get hit hard, and gets outperformed, the Angels might keep him in the rotation regardless of another pitcher deserving it more. Throughout his nine-year career, Cobb has never pitched an inning of relief. So it seems that there are not many options with what to do with a struggling Cobb. His career numbers and veteran presence suggest he may be a lock for the rotation.

If this move works out, other teams will start to take notice, and any struggling Baltimore Oriole pitcher will be the most sought-after asset in all of baseball.

Just kidding. I hope.