SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The good word has made its way to Alex Cobb, player by player. The last person to recommend Driveline Baseball’s training program to Cobb was Alex Wood, before either pitcher entered the Giants rotation.
Cobb threw a 96mph fastball on Friday, up just a few ticks from any other point in his career, just two years after being introduced to data-driven weighted ball work which is credited by pitchers all over baseball for increasing their speed. . In his second and final spring outing – a 7-7 tie with the Rangers – Cobb went four innings, allowed just one run and struck out six batters, including a puff that came on some of his cheese newly discovered bred.
“It’s new to me,” Cobb said. “Guys see 94-96 all the time so I’m not going to give them something they haven’t seen, but more velocity is always better, that’s for sure.”
Throughout his career, Cobb has featured a fastball that sits in the 90s and has relied on his lead and split finger to get out. That repertoire provided him with enough success — his 3.24 ERA from 2011-2014 ranked 25th in baseball among qualified starters — but his career was derailed by injuries. Coming into the 2020 season, I “felt like there wasn’t much life in my fastball,” Cobb said.
He had been training during the pandemic at a site that Wood had also used. When the two pitchers crossed paths there, Wood sang Driveline’s praises and told Cobb it helped change his career. (The following year, Wood signed with the Giants and had his best season in three years.)
His sparring partner at the barebones warehouse in Phoenix gave him another strong endorsement: Shohei Ohtani.
“I made a phone call right after this season,” Cobb said. “I’ve heard a lot of stories of pitchers sort of revamping their careers. You hear they went to Driveline, and you hear it over and over again.
He began working with Driveline pitch coordinator Bill Hezel, whom he checked in with weekly during the offseason. The two have maintained a line of communication ever since. The original plan was to just work on his delivery, but the extra speed was a nice side effect.
The Giants, as plugged into the Driveline coaching staff as any other organization, are Cobb’s third team in as many years. Hezel, on the other hand, provided Cobb with a source of consistency over three years of cycling through pitching teams and coaches.
“I’ve worn a lot of different jerseys over the last few years,” Cobb said. “Having something constant to chat with and get confirmation on the analytical stuff and it’s all been really nice for my career. … They all seem to have a really good connection with the front office here and the pitching coaches here, so everyone is on the same wavelength…. We work very well together.
Reports of Cobb’s increased speed began to come in after his first outing of the spring, against the Angels, his former team, when he hit 97 mph with a few fastballs. But manager Gabe Kapler wondered how much speed Cobb had added before Cobb went out and sat at 94-96mph on Friday against Rangers.
“I don’t think there’s anything particular from a pure point of view or pure speed that stands out for me right now that’s like, oh wow,” Kapler said. “Things are going well right now, and I’m going to stay measured on that one.”
Friday against Rangers, Cobb swung Kole Calhoun on a 95mph warmer in the area, then on his next plate appearance he froze him for a third hit with an 88mph splitter in the outside corner. He had another hitter watch a 95 mph fastball and used his lead to register another punch. At least two fastballs recorded readings of 96 mph on Scottsdale Stadium’s radar gun.
The difference of adding a few miles per hour, however, showed in a few terrains that Cobb didn’t execute perfectly.
“I had a few fastballs today where they leaked in the middle and I had weak ground balls,” Cobb said. “Maybe if it wasn’t for a tick or two they’d be on the barrel. … Every year it goes up a bit. I was a 90-93 guy and then I joined Driveline and I feel like I turned into a 92-94 guy last year and popped a 95. And it looks like it’s sitting 94-95 with a few (ninety) sixes and a couple (ninety-)seven last game.