The San Francisco Giants announced today that Alex Cobb has been placed on the 15-day injured list with a strained oblique. Keaton Winn has been recalled from Triple-A to replace him on the roster.
The move comes a day after the Giants placed one of their other “““starters””” (John Brebbia) on the IL with a right lat strain while activating another, Alex Wood. Yesterday’s transactions also included Tristan Beck’s return to the roster. The Giants are really using that injury loophole for player options because it’s usually the case that an optioned player has to remain in the minor leagues for at least 10 days.
Let’s look at what losing Alex Cobb means, though. He’s generated 1.6 FanGraphs’ wins above replacement in 78.2 innings pitched, tied with Logan Webb for 25th in MLB. If you must know, since there are 30 teams, any player in the top 30 is one who earns — from me, anyway — the label of “one of the best [position] in Baseball.” Cobb and Webb are 12th and 13th in the National League with their fWAR as well.
Cobb’s 2.40 BB/9 and 0.69 HR/9 have been 10th and 6th-best, respectively, in the NL this season out of 35 qualified starting pitchers. His 8.69 K/9 is just 19th on the list, but his groundball rate (58.9%) — like Logan Webb’s (59.7%) — is elite, even if Marcus Stroman has recently shot ahead with a 60% rate.
For about the first month and a half of the season, Cobb was, effectively, Baseball’s most underrated starting pitcher, and just slightly better than Logan Webb. In his first 8 starts (April 1-May 11), he had a 1.70 ERA (2.93 FIP) in 47.2 IP with 41 K against 8 BB and just 3 HR allowed. His last six starts, though, have been anything but elite: a 5.23 ERA (3.72 FIP) in 31 IP with 35 strikeouts against 13 walks.
Here’s Statcast to help me illustrate the situation with batters’ expected wOBA over his last 130 plate appearances against:
A little rest might help him out quite a bit, barring any severe structural damage. Remember: anytime you see “strain,” that means “tear,” in which case we’re dealing with degree of tear which for healing purposes involves time.
The Giants will be without their at times best starting pitcher, though easily their second-best starting pitcher for at least the next 15 days, and even with all the team’s depth, that might be a little more to ask.
That said, Alex Pavlovic has a cogent thought about all this:
Kyle Harrison is coming off his first five-inning start in Triple-A and would be on normal rest Tuesday. Giants have a 60-day move (Haniger) to make if that's the way they want to go. Tristan Beck and Keaton Winn have also pitched really well and earned a shot. We'll see.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) June 18, 2023
It seems more than likely that given the rest situation that it will be Harrison, and a home start against a division rival featuring one of the most feared left-handed hitters in the game (Juan Soto) makes sense. I’m also keeping an eye out on Tristan Beck’s option situation, however, as he’s already been optioned three times this season and per the new CBA can only be optioned a total of five times before having to clear waivers with any other option.
Beck pitched four shutout innings last night, so he wouldn’t be rested to start again until Thursday, which means Keaton Winn could be in the position. The rotation right now looks like Webb, DeSclafani, Wood, bullpen-Manaea, and TBD. The Giants seem very comfortable with managing multiple bullpen games, but I don’t see the wisdom in it in this situation.
Regarless of what happens in today’s game, I think the Giants have shown that they’ve got a little something more than a .500 squad this season, and they’ve been aggressive about promoting players and the aggression has really paid off. Don’t see why they wouldn’t stop now, even if replacing Alex Cobb in the short team would be a really tall task.