Alex Cobb on Rekindling a Relationship with His Split

Two weeks ago, Eno Sarris wrote about how Alex Cobb’s split-change has gone missing. The Tampa Bay Rays righty had a very good one before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May of 2015, but the arduous road back extracted a heavy toll. The changeup is a feel pitch, and — cue up some Righteous Brothers blue-eyed soul — Cobb lost that loving feeling.

Fortunately for the 29-year-old hurler, it’s not gone, gone, gone. As a matter of fact, his relationship with his signature offering is already being rekindled. Cobb threw his split-change just 10 times in the game about which Eno wrote. In ensuing outings that number has climbed to 13, and most recently to 23.

I haven’t spoken to Cobb since he last pitched, but I did talk to him after he faced Boston on April 16. That was the game where he threw 13 split-changes, along with 36 curveballs and 44 fastballs. He wasn’t particularly pleased with his performance, but he was thinking positive thoughts. Rather than feeling forlorn, he was looking forward to an inevitable reunion with a pitch he holds dear to his heart.


Cobb on why his changeup went missing: “If I had that answer, it would be here. But I do have ideas. Going into Tommy John surgery, you hear that the overall feel of pitches comes back slowly, and the changeup is usually the last one to come back.

“It has nothing to do with [flexor-group muscles, as Eno theorized]. I feel completely normal. When people say ‘feel on a pitch’ — especially a changeup — it’s usually a mechanical thing. Feel isn’t what the ball feels like. It’s not a literal term. It’s the way your body feels, in rhythm, over the rubber. We’re talking about inches, even fractions of inches, of changes that impact the flight of the ball.

“Getting your muscle memory right where you want it takes some time. I think that’s why the changeup is usually the last pitch to come. The other pitches aren’t affected as much by the minor movements it takes to make a successful changeup.”

On rehab and body awareness: “I’ve come back from a couple of surgeries — the first one was thoracic outlet — and when I was first coming back, I was throwing 84-86 and it felt like it was coming out the same 92. It even seemed like it got on the hitter the same way as before. So the velocity is a little bit of a head-scratcher.

“Everything that was written about was present when I was trying to rehab last year. But coming into this year, it feels completely normal. It’s just a matter of getting back to feeling the overall body awareness and mindset of what you’re trying to accomplish on the mound — how you’re trying to accomplish it, repeating it over and over again, and making it muscle memory. It’s something you’ve been doing your entire life, but when you take two years away from it… there are going to be some difficulties that come with that.”

On working to regain the feel on his changeup: “I’m throwing my changeup a lot on the side now, and the signs of it have been there. I’m not throwing it much in games yet, mostly because my other two pitches are giving me a better chance to get the result I’m looking for. I’m able to go to those two, and trust those two.

“If something is fresh in your memory, it’s so much more vivid and easy to understand, to comprehend. That’s what’s happening with my mechanics right now. I’m getting close to figuring out exactly what made me successful before, whereas before I’d just kind of go out there and do what I did. I’d pitch like I’d always pitched. That was taken away from me, and I’m trying to find it again.

“When you find it — find what makes you successful — it stands out in your mind. When you do go out there and don’t have it on a given day, you can go through your progressions and find what’s wrong. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m waiting for my changeup to come back, but I’ll know when it does. I’ve used the same grip — it’s a split grip — basically my whole professional career, so I know what everything feels like. Once I get it right, it will click.”

On mechanics and his curveball: “The faultiness of whatever my mechanics are doing allows my fastball and my curveball to still be there. They aren’t to the point that I want — mostly with the fastball; the curveball is there — but I’m able to compete right now.

“Let me clarify that a little. My mechanics feel different on all of my pitches, but the outcomes of the fastball and the curveball aren’t affected by it as much as the changeup is.

“I don’t know that [my curveball is actually better now than it was before]. I think it’s perceived that way, because I’m throwing it more. But it’s always been a good pitch for me. It’s just that I’d always had the changeup to go to in situations where I’m using the curveball now. I’ve always had confidence in it, and when I get that changeup back, I’ll have the knowledge that there are two pitches I can go to (in non-fastball situations). That’s obviously a positive.”

On the art of pitching: “I think the ability to pitch is underrated in the game. With the PITCHf/x data we’ve obtained, and gained knowledge from, over the past five or six years… I think that’s taken away from what pitching is. The ability to move the ball in and out of the zone, to feel what a hitter is trying to do, and even if you don’t have swing-and-miss stuff, to get outs. The game is going away from that, and it’s sad to see.

“We’re so focused on stuff nowadays. Unless you stand out in one category, whether it’s velocity or up or down movement, a lot of people don’t consider you a good pitcher. But if you talk to the guys in baseball who do pitch, they would disagree with that. They would disagree with what the term ‘pitcher’ has become.

“To me, the art of pitching is a huge part of what makes for a good pitcher. That’s what I want to be out there. I want to be a pitcher.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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