After MLB debut, Keegan Akin will try and stay there

The Orioles drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft, No. 54 overall out of Western Michigan University. Later that summer, he made his pro debut at short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He moved his way up the ranks, pitching at Double-A Bowie in 2018 and Triple-A Norfolk by 2019. After lefty Keegan Akin made his O’s debut and had an impressive start to his big league career last summer, he’ll now try to show he can stick in the majors and become a fixture in the rotation.

For the 2020 Orioles, Akin went 1-2 with a 4.56 ERA in eight games, making six starts in which the team went 4-2. Akin went 1-2 with a 4.03 ERA in the six starts. If you take away a first-inning knockout against the Yankees, he posted an ERA of 2.49 as a starter. He allowed zero earned runs three times in the six starts, including once in 5 1/3 innings against New York.

He showed some swing-and-miss stuff and a fastball with late life. Over 25 2/3 innings, Akin allowed 27 hits with 10 walks and 35 strikeouts. He recorded a WHIP of 1.442. Lefty batters hit .240 against him with an OPS of .576. Right-handed batters hit .269 with an OPS against the lefty of .811.

Thumbnail image for Akin-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgAkin averaged an impressive 12.27 strikeouts per nine innings, which was the best of any Oriole that pitched last year. It was also fourth among American League rookies that threw at least 25 innings. Among all major league pitchers that threw 20 or more innings, he ranked 34th in strikeouts per nine. He was keeping good company, as Trevor Bauer was 32nd at 12.33 and Max Scherzer 33rd at 12.30.

Akin got a 26 percent whiff rate on swings against his curveball, 28 percent against his fastball and a 36 percent rate against his changeup. He threw his four-seamer 62 percent of the time at an average speed of 91.9 mph per FanGraphs.com. He threw his changeup 17 percent, his curveball 11 percent and slider 10 percent of the time.

You can see that Akin’s strikeout rates have increased under the current front office. In 2018, he had a strong year at Bowie, going 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA in 25 starts. He was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year and the Orioles’ co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year along with Zac Lowther. His strikeout rate that season was 9.28 per every nine innings. It would increase to 9.89 in 2019 at Norfolk and was 12.27 in those 25 2/3 innings with the Orioles late last year. He’s trending up in that department.

Akin’s fastball, which he used very heavily and even more than he did last year earlier in his career, is said to have good late movement and late life. It gets by hitters and can appear faster than the radar gun readings. Some of this is tied to spin rates we’ve been discussing lately. As we wrote recently, Akin’s spin rate on his four-seamer last year was 2,389 RPMs, and that was above the major league average of 2,306 for that pitch. But it was in spin efficiency that Akin really scored well, ranking 38th in baseball on the four-seamer and third on the Orioles behind Cole Sulser (27th) and Alex Cobb (33rd).

The fastball is still the key pitch for Akin, even during a time when he has worked hard with the team to improve his secondary pitches, which he has clearly done. Some pitchers now use their fastball 50 percent of the time or less, but Akin - and, yes, it was a small sample - was still at 62 percent last year. Over more innings, that percentage probably comes down somewhat, but the pitch is still his bread and butter and everything flows off of that. The late life and action on the pitch allow him to elevate fastballs to get hitters out and put them away.

During a winter Zoom interview, manager Brandon Hyde talked up both Akin and right-hander Dean Kremer for their pitching in 2020 and their outlook for the 2021 rotation.

“I thought they put themselves in position the way they threw the ball, their last four or five starts in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “They threw the ball outstanding against playoff clubs. To go in against the lineups they faced on a nightly basis was really, really impressive how they handled that. They gave themselves every opportunity to win a starting job next year.”

Akin made an impressive debut last year. Getting to the big leagues is one special achievement. Staying there is another.

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