Cody Allen on Rotating His Spike

Cody Allen throws a lot of curveballs. As a matter of fact, the Cleveland closer has thrown the second-highest percentage (38.9%) of curveballs among qualified relievers since the start of the 2014 season. It’s hard to argue with success. Allen’s signature pitch has helped him amass 147 saves, the most in Indians history.

His grip, while not uncommon, isn’t entirely traditional, either. The 29-year-old right-hander throws a spiked curveball, which he learned and developed through the insistence of someone whose advice he’s always taken to heart. It was career-altering advice. Were it not for the pitch, Allen’s day-to-day experiences with rotation would be markedly different than they are on a mound.


Cody Allen: “My freshman year of college, I was pretty much just a fastball-slider guy. My slider was OK. I have a twin brother, Chad, who pitched at the University of West Florida, and he had a really good breaking ball. He spiked his. He would always tell me, ‘Hey, man, try spiking it.’ I did, but I had no feel for it. It had good spin and was doing the things I wanted it to, but I felt there was no way I could throw it for a strike.

“When I was coming back from Tommy John surgery the next year, I had an extended throwing program. That gave me a window to see if I could maybe iron this pitch out. So the fall of 2009, and the spring of 2010, is when I really stuck with it. I kept throwing it, and it got better and better.

“And it’s funny. My brother… we’re twin brothers, both pitchers, and we had Tommy John about six months apart. He had it before me, so when I was going through the whole rehab process I was able to call him and ask things like, ‘Did you feel this? Did you have trouble getting over this hump?’ We’ve always helped each other out.

“Anyway, I got put in the bullpen after I got drafted in 2011. I was throwing four pitches at the time. Mickey Callaway was our pitching coordinator back then, and Ruben Niebla — he’s our pitching coordinator now — was our Triple-A pitching coach. They kind of got together and decided, ‘Hey, scrap the slider and the changeup and just be fastball and spiked curveball.’ They told me that my spiked curveball had a chance to be a really good pitch, but I had to throw it more and develop it.

Allen’s grip for the spike curve.

“You’re used to having both fingers on the ball, and rotating with both fingers, so the tough part wasn’t making it comfortable in my hand so much as trusting that it was going to come out the way I wanted it to. It took a couple of years before I was throwing it with really good conviction. So it took time, but eventually it kind of took off for me.

“I think the reason I get better rotation, and better action, with a spike is because it only needs to get over this one finger. When my [pointer] finger is up, I’m applying more pressure on the seam with my [middle finger]. The more pressure I’m able to apply, the more I’m able to spin the ball out of my hand. The thumb just kind of acts as a catapult. It just flips up.

“The middle finger is on the seam, because that’s the one you’re pulling down with. It’s the one you’re leveraging down into the seam, trying to create that top-over-bottom spin. If that finger wasn’t on a seam, I wouldn’t be able to pull down on it as well. Having it on a seam gives me traction.

“In the end, the story behind my spiked curve is basically my brother saying, ‘Hey, try this and stick with it. It’s going to be a good pitch for you.’ I’ve thanked him for that. I’ve told him that if he hadn’t taught me that pitch, I’d be probably rotating tires at Tire Kingdom right now.”

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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Pwn Shop
5 years ago

I thought this was going to be about him turning one of the spikes in his cleats 90 degrees so he could get better rotation off the mound or something, and I was like wow that is crazy. And then no just pitches. Still a great article!