Keegan Akin, Kolby Allard, and Jharel Cotton on Learning and Developing Their Changeups

The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned in June after being on hiatus last year due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features Keegan Akin, Kolby Allard, and Jharel Cotton on their changeups.


Keegan Akin, Baltimore Orioles

“It was one of the first pitches I ever learned — I was probably 12 years old — and honestly, it wasn’t a very good pitch for me all the way through high school and college. But then I really worked on it in the offseason going into 2019. That was when I told myself, ‘You know, I need to make this into kind of a go-to pitch for whenever I need it.’ So every day, I played catch with that grip. I was throwing it 90 feet, 120 feet, trying to have it coming out feeling like a fastball. A changeup is a feel pitch, so you need to become comfortable with it.

Keegan Akin’s changeup grip.

“The grip has been the same since the offseason of 2018. I tinkered with it and tried different things here and there, found one that worked for me, and I’ve rolled with it ever since. It’s kind of a circle change, I guess is the best way to put it. I learned it as a typical circle, with all five fingers on the ball. I have bigger hands, so I used to cut it a lot — it would turn into a cut changeup — and I didn’t want that, so I started moving it out further and further toward the end of my hand. It’s more based off my ring finger, my pinky finger and my middle finger, and I’m trying to throw as hard as I can. I’m throwing it like a fastball and letting the grip do the work.

“I guess I could say that three and a half fingers are on the ball, with the thumb not involved. The index finger is kind of tucked under; it sits on that middle knuckle, kind of more as a guidance thing. So the thumb and the index finger are kind of out of the picture and the middle finger is dominant. And I pronate it a lot. I let it almost shoot out of the side of my hand. That’s kind of the mindset. I let it roll off that middle finger and really get the pronation and rollover, and the extension out front.

“I get depth on it, but it’s more of an arm-side run type of pitch. It’s low-spin, low-velo. I try to keep it 10–12 [mph] off my fastball if possible, but I also try not to be too concerned with trying to kill the velo, because that’s when you start to slow your motion down. You want to sell it as much as possible. Basically, I throw it like a fastball and essentially let the grip do the work.”


Kolby Allard, Texas Rangers

“I started throwing a changeup at a young age, probably when I was 10 or 12 years old. But it’s a pitch that’s been a little bit behind some the others, until this year. I’ve made a little few grip tweaks and have had a lot better movement profile now. I’ve been more successful with it, batted-ball-wise, and everything else.

Kolby Allard’s changeup grip.

“Originally, it was more of a circle, a pretty standard circle change. I’ve got a little bit smaller hands, so it was about trying to tweak with grip changes. Dane Dunning showed me the way he was throwing his. I’m typically good at backspinning the ball — I’m a four-seam guy — and sometimes guys that are good at backspinning the ball have a tough time throwing good changeups that will move more horizontally. So we did a little grip-tweaking to a two-seam change, one that’s actually kind of a hybrid between my circle and a Vulcan. Not a straight Vulcan, but a little bit of one. I try to tilt down the side, and go with it.

“Changing to a two-seam from a four, we were taking off some of that vertical movement we had — by that, I mean making it sink more. The spin dropped by a few hundred RPMs, which is good, and while it varies start to start, we dropped it three, four, five inches. We also added two, three, four, five inches of horizontal. If you drop it a little more, down on the clock tilt-wise, it’s going to have more horizontal. I’m not pronating more, but rather getting the ball more horizontally axis-tilted.

“Now that we have all the technology, we can break things down and see how the ball is coming out of your hand. You can see release points, pressure points, which fingers it’s hitting last. Seeing where it’s coming off on the Edgertronic, and working on pitch design… and there’s also TrackMan and Rapsodo. The whole thing.”


Jharel Cotton, Texas Rangers

“I started throwing [a changeup] at the age of 10 years old. My coach, Terrance Chinnery, in [the Virgin Islands], showed me that pitch. I guess he learned it from Pedro Martinez. He showed me the grip and how to manipulate the ball. I started doing that, with the screwball kind of spin you get on it. Ever since then, I’ve always had that in my back pocket.

“I was more of a curveball pitcher until I was like 14 years old, which is when I started long-tossing with it. I was like, ‘Wow, this pitch moves a lot.’ After that, I started throwing it a lot more in games and had success with it. I’m basically throwing the same one now that I did then, but there are [differences]. The velo on my fastball created velo on my changeup — back in the day it was slower, and now it’s a lot harder — and I also think the balls… I feel like with higher seams it moves a lot more than it does with the MLB ball. Another thing is that I used to have more horizontal on it, and now it’s less horizontal with more depth.

Jharel Cotton’s changeup grip.

“It’s a four-seam changeup, basically. The middle finger, ring finger, and pinky are on the ball, and the index and the thumb make a circle. I try to keep the pressure on my pinky, because it’s the weakest finger. And I try to turn it over; I try to spin that pitch a lot. Right now, it varies between 2,200 and 2,400 [rpms]. I feel that once I get more powerful in my legs, I can probably get it higher.

“I’ve been working on my mechanics, trying to get my leg more stable, so I can become more powerful on the mound. I think that’s affected it a little bit. I feel like once I get back to using my legs better, the movement will get better. And while it is a power changeup, I want to take off speed as well. I feel that I take away speed by spinning the pitch. The harder I spin it, the slower it becomes. If I push that pitch, I throw harder. If I can spin the pitch, I can deaden it with my pinky finger.”


The 2021 installments of the series can be found here.

The 2019 installments of the series can be found here.

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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