Jharrel Cotton = Pedro Martinez; the best Changeup in baseball

Apr 28, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Jharel Cotton (45) deliver a pitch during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Jharel Cotton (45) deliver a pitch during the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /

Jharel Cotton has made it well known that his changeup is no joke. Even Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez has something to say about it.

On August 1, 2016, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Jharel Cotton, Grant Holmes, and Frankie Montas to the Oakland Athletics for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. Shortly thereafter, Cotton was assigned to the Triple-A Nashville Sounds where he retired the first 26 Round Rock Express batters he faced, barely missing a perfect game. After a stellar debut in September, Cotton looks to prove he is the real deal in 2017, his first full season.

 Praise from a legend: Pedro Martinez

Not long after Jharel Cotton tossed seven scoreless innings in a win against the Kansas City Royals, Hall of Famer and baseball legend Pedro Martinez took to twitter to relate Cotton to himself.

"Martinez, Pedro (@45PedroMartinez). “Jharel Cotton reminds me a lot of myself. Nasty change  up, nice cutter, same arm angle and rotation, and same grip I used to have.” 11 Apr 2017, 9:10 AM."

Going on to add…

"Martinez, Pedro (@45PedroMartinez). “Cotton was born the same day I made my debut, 1992, wears #45, and sadly was traded by the Dodgers…oh well! Good signs indeed!!” 11 Apr 2017, 9:19 AM."

Although, interestingly enough, there are a few more similarities that Martinez missed. Not only are both Cotton and Martinez both 5’11, they are both listed at 195 pounds.

While it’s significant to note that Martinez and Cotton share plenty of similarities, the greatest way for Cotton to complete the comparison is by dominating hitters like Martinez.


So far in the 2017 campaign, Cotton has struck out 19 while walking 12 batters in 27 innings of work. This early in the season, the only critique that can really be made is that he needs the strikeout rate to go up and the walk rate to come down.  Inspecting Cotton’s pitch usage trends up to now in 2017, it’s intriguing to see that he is throwing all his pitches more often, resulting in a more even distribution.  This is reflected by the graph below.

Pitch Usage by Type 2017:


Taking a look at Cotton’s 2016 trends (shown below), he has never really used all of his pitches at a consistent rate. Specifically, Cotton threw a high percentage of change-ups.

Pitch Usage by Type 2016:


The question thusforth then, as given away by the title, is why is he throwing fewer changeups in 2017? Statistically speaking, Cotton has one of the best changeups in all of baseball.

Top Changeups by Movement & Velocity

PitcherswSTR%GB%Velo GapABS X MoveY MoveMoveVeloZ
Scott Kazmir17%29%
Jharel Cotton18%35%
Brad Boxberger12%33%
Tony Sipp28%27%
Fernando Rodney21%22%
Christopher Devenski21%33%
Daniel Mengden7%33%
Michael Fulmer19%47%
Blaine Hardy22%24%9.510.35.13.3
Tyler Clippard11%26%
Mat Latos15%21%
Mike Morin20%27%
Mike Pelfrey15%42%11.05.3-0.32.7
Brad Brach21%38%
Carlos Rodon12%31%
  • swSTR% = whiffs / pitches
  • ABS X Move = absolute value of horizontal movement
  • MoveVeloZ = 2*(z-scores for vertical movement and velocity gap) + z-score for horizontal movement
  • n=292 pitchers that threw changeup 100+ times in 2016

Graphs courtesy of Eno Sarris, April 5, 2017 article

The first stat that stands out, is the velocity gap. The velocity gap is, simply, the velocity difference between a pitcher’s changeup and primary fastball. Cotton’s is 15.4 mph, the second-highest gap on the list. Furthermore, for a changeup, Cotton’s 35% groundball rate is tremendous. The success of Cotton’s changeup is in producing groundballs, which most likely stems from it’s ridiculous movement and large velocity gap.  Most interesting of all is Cotton’s MoveVeloZ, which adds up 3 of the previous categories on the chart to determine overall filthiness. Cotton is ranked second!


Clearly, as it is still April 2017, Jharel Cotton has adjustments to make. Whether the current reduction of changeups is an early adjustment to keep hitters off balance, or early season fluke. It is indisputable that Cotton’s changeup is nasty. When a Hall of Famer who is a professional analyst and one of the greatest pitchers of all time points out your success and viability, you must be doing something right.