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Every MLB pitcher has a singular style. Some, however, are really singular.
Let’s gaze back over the past two decades and rank the 10 most unique pitching motions in recent baseball history.
Obviously, this is a highly subjective exercise with no metrics or statistics to guide the way. But, as with our recent ranking of unique batting stances, we started with the basic motion every kid is taught in Little League and looked for examples of deliveries that deviated most strikingly from that approach.
We’ll meet submariners, high leg-kickers, double leg-kickers, shimmiers, leapers and one guy who throws with both hands (though not at the same time).
In the end, they all have two things in common: They’ve toed a big league rubber (with varying degrees of success), and they’ve done it with unorthodox flair.
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There isn’t anything particularly remarkable about the way Pat Venditte throws from the right side. Nor is there anything especially unique about the way he throws from the left side.
What earns Venditte a spot on this list is the fact that he has done both, sometimes in the same inning, in multiple big league games. Sure, it’s technically not a “motion,” but it’s a singular style (and capability) that can change the complexion of an inning like no other.
Since he debuted with the Oakland Athletics in 2015, Venditte has been the only switch-pitcher in professional baseball. The results haven’t been stellar; he owns a 5.03 ERA in 68 innings spread over stints with the A’s, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
But he is undeniably a trailblazer. According to ESPN’s Chris Jones, Venditte is the first ambidextrous pitcher to throw regularly in the big leagues since 1894.
Doing something on an MLB mound that no one has done in more than 125 years is about as unique as you can get with how hard it is to truly be one of a kind.
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There’s nothing unusual about pitching overhand, but Josh Collmenter took it to the extreme.
The right-hander’s motion brought his arm over the top of his head in an exaggerated fashion, giving the illusion that he was throwing downhill at the batter.
His velocity rarely reached the high 80s, but it was an unusual look for opposing hitters and helped Collmenter post a 3.64 ERA in 695.1 innings in seven seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves.
According to Collmenter, his delivery mimicked a rather risky childhood activity: tossing woodcutting implements.
“I was from a small town in Michigan, and I always likened my throwing motion to, like, throwing a hatchet or an ax,” Collmenter told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “My brothers and I did that when we were kids. Who knows if that led to it, but that’s the closest thing to it.”
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Brad Ziegler is on the opposite end of the arm-slot spectrum from Collmenter.
One of a small collection of true submarine throwers in MLB, Ziegler used his extremely low-slung delivery to post a 2.75 ERA in an 11-year career as a late-inning reliever.
He came up as a starter in the Oakland Athletics system with a more traditional throwing motion, but he adopted his novel arm slot and transitioned to a relief role ahead of his big league debut.
“I looked at it as an opportunity to maybe separate myself from other right-handed pitchers in the minor leagues at that time,” Ziegler recalled in 2018, per Greg Moore of AZCentral.com. “Just be a little different.”
Different, and highly effective.
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John Gant is the first of two pitchers on this list who make you ask, “Wait, isn’t that a balk?”
When he debuted with the Atlanta Braves in 2016, Gant showcased a delivery wherein he’d employ a series of toe taps and leg kicks from the windup before finally delivering the ball.
A balk can’t be called when no runners are on base, and apparently Gant’s motion wasn’t an illegal pitch (which can be called with no runners on base and counts as a ball) in any umpire’s estimation.
Gant has since tweaked and toned down his halting delivery, and he has enjoyed a solid four-year big league run, posting a 3.89 ERA in 117 appearances both in the rotation and out of the bullpen for the Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
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Dontrelle Willis was a sensation for the Florida Marlins in 2003, posting a 3.30 ERA in 27 starts, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Fish win the World Series.
His popularity was partly a result of the young left-hander’s stellar output, but it was also due to his eye-catching delivery, which featured an exaggerated leg kick that sometimes brought his knee and foot to the top of his head and higher.
The D-Train won 22 games and made the NL All-Star team in 2005, but his career was derailed by injury and inconsistency, and he never posted a sub-5.00 ERA from 2007 through 2011, his final big league season.
Still, Marlins fans will always have fond memories of Willis’ scintillating ’03 debut and the championship run his soaring right leg helped kick off.
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Speaking of high leg kicks, Orlando Hernandez brought one with him from Cuba to the Bronx.
It was a delivery crafted by imitating a number of great pitchers, including Dwight Gooden, Juan Marichal, Nolan Ryan and Luis Tiant, according to Ben Shpigel of the New York Times.
But with his high-cocked left knee, hands down to the side and head whipping toward the hitter, it was uniquely El Duque. The motion, coupled with a varying array of arm angles, made him a master of deception.
Hernandez debuted his singular delivery with the New York Yankees in 1998 and posted a 3.13 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 141 innings. He won three rings with New York in ’98, ’99 and 2000 and was named the ’99 American League Championship Series MVP.
He grabbed another title with the Chicago White Sox in 2005 before hanging up his cleats and high kick after the 2007 season.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Some unique deliveries begin almost by accident or on a whim. Tim Lincecum’s was designed.
One of the chief architects was the right-hander’s father, Chris, who helped his son develop and refine the whip-like motion that helped win Timmy a pair of National League Cy Young Awards with the San Francisco Giants.
Anyone who followed baseball in the 2010s can picture The Freak’s motion: hands down, a coiled chest-high leg kick, an impossibly long stride and a corkscrew delivery that ended with his left foot planted and his right foot kicked back above his head.
It allowed Lincecum to throw in the high 90s early in his career despite his slight frame. And it made him one of the best pitchers in baseball for a run of four consecutive All-Star seasons from 2008 to 2011 before diminished velocity and injuries sapped his effectiveness.
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What do you get when you combine an MLB right-hander with an improvisational jazz musician?
There are pitchers with faster fastballs and more devastating breaking balls. But few hurlers of recent vintage have given hitters as dizzying an array of looks as Cueto.
It’s certainly possible to get a hit off him. But having a completely balanced or comfortable at-bat is a tall order.
Employing a low leg kick and a series of twists, shimmies and hesitations, the two-time All-Star can run the gamut from a near quick pitch to “throw the dang ball already!” and everything in between.
Sometimes, it seems as though even Cueto doesn’t know how or when he’s going to throw it until right before he lets the ball go.
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LINDA KAYE/Associated Press
Hideo Nomo arrived from Japan in 1995 and took MLB by storm. The 26-year-old righty led the Senior Circuit with 236 strikeouts that season while posting a 2.54 ERA in 28 starts and winning NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The stats stood out, but Nomo’s mesmerizing delivery was also what made him a true sensation.
Starting with his hands high over his head and his back arched, Nomo then pulled his arms back as he rocked into a high kick, coiled away from the hitter and snapped around to deliver the pitch.
“Nomomania” served as an antidote to the cynicism and bad vibes brought on by the 1994 labor stoppage that wiped out the World Series, and it ushered in a wave of Japanese players to MLB.
His influence was like his pitching style: unique, memorable and highly effective.
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Some pitchers kick, some twist, some shake and hesitate. Carter Capps jumps.
It’s a motion that strains the definition of a legal pitch but has been allowed to pass so far by MLB umps and rule enforcers: Capps ends his delivery with a pronounced hop toward home plate that puts him well off the rubber and measurably cuts the 60’6″ distance between pitcher and hitter.
It’s easy to apply the slippery slope argument. If this is OK, what’s to stop a pitcher from simply skipping up to home plate and handing the catcher the ball?
MLB updated its rules prior to the 2017 season, per MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, to specify that “a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch.”
“He’s dragging his foot down the slope. He’s still exploding down the slope,” then-San Diego Padres manager Andy Green said of Capps in 2017, according to Cassavell. “There’s a large percentage of pitchers who leave the rubber before they deliver the pitch.”
Capps was coming back from Tommy John surgery and threw just 12.1 innings that season for San Diego. He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since, but if the 29-year-old makes a comeback, we’ll see if he brings his rule-straining hop back with him.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.