30 Quirkiest Pitching Deliveries in MLB History

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2012

30 Quirkiest Pitching Deliveries in MLB History

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    At first glance, pitching a baseball looks fairly simple—you raise your leg, rear back and let one fly.

    Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

    Pitching is an art form, a complicated combination of specific timed movements that involves multiple body parts working together in unison to create enough energy to send a projectile hurtling 60 feet, six inches toward home plate at a high speed.

    Everyone has a different way of reaching the same end result—some more bizarre and entertaining than others.

    So without further ado, and in no particular order, let's take a look at 30 of the quirkiest pitching deliveries in the history of the game.

Frank Seminara

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    Frank Seminara only played parts of three seasons in the majors, appearing in 37 games for the San Diego Padres from 1992 to 1993 and 10 games for the New York Mets in 1994.

    The notable thing about Seminara was his delivery.

    Once he started his windup, there was no part of his body that wasn't in motion. By the time he came toward the plate, his arm was somewhere between three-quarters and a sidearm angle while his body was leaning precipitously to the left, leaving people to wonder how he didn't fall over after every pitch.

    A funky delivery such as his resulted in an inability to command his pitches, and he finished his career with nearly as many walks (75) as strikeouts (90).

Daisuke Matsuzaka

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    The most expensive Japanese import in the history of the game, Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka has a quirky delivery that, at one point, kept hitters off balance.

    As he brings his arms over his head, he stops. Not momentarily, but for a few seconds, before finally finishing his delivery and releasing the ball.

Ewell "The Whip" Blackwell

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    A right-handed pitcher who appeared in six consecutive All-Star Games from 1946 through 1951 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, Ewell Blackwell was an imposing figure on the mound.

    Standing at 6'6", Blackwell was a sidearm pitcher who developed into a submarine-style pitcher, and his delivery was neither natural nor good for his arm.

    He snapped the ball toward home plate as if he was cracking a whip, all the while looking as if he was falling out of a tree, as one columnist reportedly said in describing his delivery.

Stu Miller

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    Stu Miller never threw a pitch more than 60 miles per hour, yet he enjoyed a 16-year career that saw him save 154 games and may have had the best changeup that baseball has ever seen.

    Milt Pappas explains the phenomenon that was Stu Miller better than anyone else. Via The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches:

    He had three speeds for his pitches: slow, slower, and slowest. He had a phenomenal career for a guy that couldn’t break a pane of glass with his fastball. He would frustrate the hell out of the hitters. His best fastball was probably about 45 miles per hour, and then it got worse. But he had a change-up curve, a regular change-up, a change-up off his fastball, and a change-up off that fastball. He would just totally frustrate hitters. Stu had a herky-jerky wind-up, too. He would wobble his head back and forth before releasing the ball. If the hitter was watching him, the poor schmuck didn’t have a chance of hitting the ball.

Sam Nahem

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    Right-hander Sam Nahem missed more time due to World War II than he spent pitching in the major leagues. But when he did pitch, he was one of the more unique pitchers in the game.

    Nahem used two completely different deliveries and arm angles for right-handed and left-handed batters over a four-year career that saw him walk more batters (125) than he struck out (99).

    Against righties, Nahem was a submarine-style pitcher, holding batters to a .264 average.

    Against lefties, he used an overhand angle to attack the batter, and they were more successful, hitting .321 against Nahem.

Steve Hamilton

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    A 12-year veteran, primarily with the New York Yankees, lefty Steve Hamilton saved 42 games in what was a solid but unspectacular career.

    Knowing that he needed to add something to his arsenal, Hamilton developed a pitch that he called the "Folly Floater"—and the delivery of the pitch was a sight to behold, as you can see in the video.

    Hamilton explains his thinking behind the pitch, via The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches:

    I combined Satch’s hesitation pitch with Rip’s high blooper, and it has been so effective that I’ve made it an important part of my pitching repertoire … It never was a joke to me. A pitcher just can’t get by with a fast ball and a curve or slider. He’s got to find another avenue to throw off the batters. But I couldn’t throw a screwball and I never had a real good slow curve. I tried a palm ball and slip pitches and couldn’t master them either.

Paul Derringer

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    A six-time All-Star who won 223 games over a 15-year career, primarily with the Cincinnati Reds, Paul Derringer used deception to befuddle batters from 1931 through 1945.

    The deceptive part of Derringer's game was in his delivery.

    When he had his right arm behind him as he prepared to throw, his left leg blocked the batter's view of his right hand—so it wasn't until the ball was released that the batter had a chance to key in on it.

Ted Abernathy

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    Ted Abernathy was a relief pitcher who played for seven teams over a 14-year career, picking up 148 saves along the way.

    Originally, he threw from a three-quarters arm angle, but a serious shoulder injury forced him to re-invent himself—which he did, as a hybrid sidearm/submarine pitcher.

    Really, it was more of a hybrid underhand pitching motion than anything else, and it drove batters nuts as his curveball rose and his fastball sank.

Johnny Cueto

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    Currently the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto has found success by utilizing a delivery that is seldom used in the game today.

    Cueto twists his entire body around so that he's facing second base, then twists back around and explodes toward the plate.

    Unlike others who have utilized this motion in the past, Cueto looks toward the batter before releasing the pitch.

Luis Tiant

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    A three-time All-Star who led the American League in ERA twice, Luis Tiant threw six different pitches from three different arm angles, and he never had the exact same delivery for any of them.

    Tiant could throw a fastball, curveball, slider, knuckleball, palmball and a slow curve, bringing his arm either over the top, three-quarters or sidearm.

    On top of that, Tiant would almost turn around to face second base during his windup, but instead of spinning back around and firing the ball toward home plate in a fluid motion, he'd hesitate, often looking around the park before throwing his pitch.

    It made it nearly impossible for batters to figure out what was coming, as they not only couldn't tell what pitch he was throwing, but they had no clue as to what arm angle he was going to use in order to throw it.

    Tiant explains when and why he adopted this unusual method of pitching, via StogieGuys.com:

    I started my career as a power pitcher who got his fastball up into the 96-98 mph range. After a year off from winterball, which in those days was unheard of for Latino players, I had a dismal ’69 season after a great season in ’68 where I went 21-9 with 1.60 ERA. I was traded to Minnesota from Cleveland and suffered an arm injury, which led to my release. My attempt for a comeback went from the Braves organization to Boston where I ended up resurrecting my career. My loss of velocity made me change my style of pitching, and from that came the development of my unorthodox style in order to keep hitters off balance. The rest is history.

Tim Lincecum

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    While he has yet to pitch like Tim Lincecum in 2012, there's no reason to change what has worked for the two-time National League Cy Young award winner up to this point.

    The 27-year-old is a throwback in more than one sense of the word.

    His laid-back demeanor and personality would have fit in perfectly with 1960s San Francisco, and his delivery is more reminiscent of pitchers from that era than any of his peers today.

    Lincecum twists his body around so that his back is facing the batter and home plate, hiding the ball from the batter for a moment, before exploding toward the plate, giving batters little time to pick up the ball coming out of his hand.

Dan Quisenberry

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    From 1980 through 1985, there was no better closer in the American League—and maybe all of baseball—than Dan Quisenberry.

    A sidearm pitcher when he debuted with the Kansas City Royals in 1979, Quisenberry dropped his arm angle and moved to a submarine style that he called "down under."

    With a sinker that sat in the low 80s and drove batters crazy as it induced ground ball after ground ball, Quiz saved 212 games over that five-year span, including 45 in 1983, which was a new major league record for a single season at that time.

    You can see Quisenberry in action starting around the 25-second mark in the video.

    His arm looks like it's going to snap in half at points, and you can see the incredible torque and strain that the lowered arm angle puts on his elbow.

Juan Marichal

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    A 10-time All-Star and member of the Hall of Fame, Juan Marichal spent 14 of his 16 years in the majors with the San Francisco Giants, throwing a no-hitter in 1963 and intimidating batters every time he toed the rubber.

    His 191 victories during the 1960s led all pitchers, and part of his success can be attributed to the fact that Marichal was a master of intimidation, often throwing at batters' helmets to remind them that he owned the plate and would throw wherever he liked, whenever he liked.

    Marichal's leg kick is the unique part of his windup and delivery.

    Notice that he not only gets his leg incredibly high, but the leg is almost vertical when he starts to move forward.

    As with others on this list, Marichal's delivery hid the ball from the view of batters, giving them virtually no time to pick up the ball.

Dontrelle Willis

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    A two-time All-Star, Dontrelle Willis burst onto the scene in 2003 with the Florida Marlins, being named the National League Rookie of the Year and captivating the baseball world with his delivery.

    His entire body is in motion from the time he starts his windup. He turns backwards, kicks his leg up as high as he can, then spins around with his arm in a three-quarters position, firing the ball toward home plate.

    Unfortunately, his early success wouldn't last, and his career has been that of two completely different pitchers.

    From 2003 through 2006, an average season for Willis was 14-10 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 200 innings pitched.

    From 2007 through 2011, an average season has been 3-6 with a 5.65 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP over 81 innings pitched.

    Currently stuck on the restricted list with the Baltimore Orioles in a bizarre situation, the D-Train may have finally reached the end of the line.

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez

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    Nobody is quite sure how old Orlando Hernandez was when he made his major league debut with the New York Yankees in 1998, but before long, two things quickly became evident: He definitely had the makeup and talent to be a successful major league pitcher, and he was bound to injure himself when throwing a pitch.

    El Duque would bring his leg up to his shoulder before firing a pitch toward home plate. More often than not, you'd swear that he touched his knee to his chin.

    Regardless of how high he brought his plant leg, Hernandez enjoyed a successful nine-year career, winning four World Series championships (three with the New York Yankees, one with the Chicago White Sox) and finishing his career with a 90-65 record, 4.13 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 1,314.2 innings pitched.

Sammy Gervacio

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    Sammy Gervacio pitched parts of two seasons for the Houston Astros, going 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP over 24.2 innings pitched.

    Words cannot do his bizarre delivery justice—take a look for yourself.

Chad Bradford

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    If the Beatles lived in a "Yellow Submarine," then Chad Bradford lived on the ocean floor, because to simply call him a submarine-style pitcher doesn't do him justice.

    A 12-year veteran as a middle reliever, Bradford pitched for six teams from 1998 through 2009, finishing his career with a 36-28 record, 3.26 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 11 saves over 515.2 innings pitched, using a fastball that sat in the low 80s as his primary pitch.

    Bradford was featured on the first slide of the article, and from that photo, you can see how incredibly low he gets his arm just before releasing the ball.

    How he managed to not smash his hand into the pitching mound—or at least scrape his knuckles on the mound with each pitch—is amazing.

    Believe it or not, there really isn't any great, close-up video of Bradford's delivery in action. You can get an idea as to how it looked here, but it doesn't really paint as great a picture as the photos do.

Kent Tekulve

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    One of only six pitchers to appear in at least 90 games in a season—a feat he accomplished three times—Kent Tekulve was a very effective submarine-style relief pitcher during a 16-year career with three teams.

    Tekulve appeared in 1,050 games between 1974 and 1989, going 94-90 with a 2.85 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 184 saves. His 1,050 games played places him eighth all-time for pitchers, though he may soon have company, as Mariano Rivera sits one game behind him.

    During the 1978 and 1979 seasons, he appeared in a combined 185 games, going 18-15 with a 2.54 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 62 saves and two top-five finishes in the NL Cy Young award voting over 269.2 innings pitched.

    Can you imagine a relief pitcher carrying that workload over a two-year period today?

    Me either.

Josh Outman

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    Currently on the 15-day disabled list for the Colorado Rockies with a strained oblique, Josh Outman is a 27-year-old, left-handed pitcher who employed a delivery growing up that was based on a little-known pitching method, appropriately named the "Outman Methodology."

    A three-year veteran who missed the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, Outman has a career record of 8-8 in 35 games (25 starts) with a 3.75 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 151.1 innings pitched for the Oakland A's.

    Growing up and early in his career, Outman's delivery was based on a little-known and seldom-used method of pitching, appropriately called the "Outman Methodology."

    You can see video of it here, but David Laurila of Fangraphs.com interviewed Outman in 2008 and asked him to explain the motion in his own words:

    You would start from what would look like the stretch, your glove side facing the plate with the pitching hand in the glove. The pitching arm would then go to where the humerus is vertical, or the pitching elbow facing the sky and the elbow at a 90-degree angle. The glove would come up to where it appeared as though you were catching your glove-arm shoulder while bringing the glove elbow up high enough to conceal the baseball that is positioned almost behind your head. Then, taking a walking step towards the plate you would deliver the pitch.

    As I mentioned previously, Outman missed the 2010 season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery—something that Outman, who has switched to a more conventional pitching method, thinks may not have happened if he were still using his old mechanics:

    Would it have happened with my old delivery? There’s no way to know for sure. Would the probability have been lessened? Yes, I think so. I hadn’t had any issues with my elbow prior to the injury. On the pitch that I felt the initial reaction on, I actually slipped and threw the ball from a position that I wasn’t accustomed to. Had that not happened, who’s to say whether the injury would or would not have eventually occurred.

Hideo Nomo

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    The 1995 National League Rookie of the Year and the only Japanese pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues—a feat he accomplished twice—Hideo Nomo had a bizarre delivery.

    Nomo would raise both arms straight above his head, twist his body toward second base, then spin around toward home and release the pitch.

    As bizarre as it was, Nomo had a successful 12-year career in the major leagues, primarily with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    He led the National League in strikeouts twice and finished his career with a record of 123-109 with a 4.24 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 1,918 strikeouts over 1,976.1 innings pitched.

Satchel Paige

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    One of the great pitchers in the history of the game and a member of the Hall of Fame, Satchel Paige didn't make his major league debut until 1943, when he was 41 years old.

    He spent his formative years in the Negro Leagues, compiling a 100-50 record with a 3.22 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 1,170 strikeouts over 1,298.2 innings pitched.

    Over parts of six seasons in the major leagues, Paige went 28-31 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and two All-Star appearances, in 1952 and 1953 as a member of the St. Louis Browns.

    His windmill windup was one of the more unique pitching motions that anyone has ever seen or used on a pitching mound.

Fernando Valenzuela

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    After pitching 10 scoreless innings of relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1980, left-hander Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the scene in 1981, giving birth to "Fernandomania" and leaving his indelible mark on the game over a 17-year career.

    Valenzuela, named the 1981 National League Cy Young award winner and Rookie of the Year, had a unique wrinkle in his delivery.

    He would look skyward just as he reached the apex of his pitching motion, then back at the batter as he unleashed one of his many pitches, including a screwball that baffled hitters from both sides of the plate.

    A six-time All-Star, he finished his career with a 173-153 record, 3.54 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 2,930 innings pitched.

Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams

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    Surprisingly, there isn't any quality video out there of Mitch Williams pitching, so this "happy birthday" tribute of still photos will have to do.

    An All-Star in 1989 who saved 192 games over an 11-year career, Williams is best remembered for two things—giving up the World Series-winning home run to Joe Carter in 1993 and his violent pitching delivery.

    On every pitch he threw, you expected to see him fall down.

    Williams' momentum was so strong that he needed to use his right hand to brace and steady himself on the mound, as you can see from the photos in the video.

Tom Seaver

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    Elected to the Hall of Fame with the highest percentage of votes anyone has ever received—98.84 percent—311 game-winner Tom Seaver had a delivery that was remarkable in both its effectiveness and mechanics.

    Seaver utilized his legs as well as any pitcher ever has.

    During his windup, as he would bring his right leg down, he would stretch it as far as he could toward home plate, forcing his right leg to drop to the ground, oftentimes resulting in his knee resting on the pitcher's mound.

Dean Chance

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    A two-time All-Star and winner of the American League Cy Young award in 1964 with the Angels, batters hated coming to the plate against Dean Chance.

    It wasn't necessarily because of Chance's stuff, of which his slider was his best pitch.

    As soon as he would get the sign from the catcher and started his windup, he would twist around so that his back was facing home plate—and the batter.

    Chance would then spin around and fire the ball toward the plate, often never getting more than a faint glimpse of where the catcher was set up.

    Hitters not only had no idea what pitch was coming, they had no idea where the pitch was headed, since whether Chance actually looked at home plate before throwing the ball was unclear.

Walter Johnson

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    Arguably the best pitcher in the history of the game, Walter "Big Train" Johnson won 417 games, and his name is near or at the top of multiple pitching records.

    His delivery wasn't so much quirky as it was deceptive.

    Johnson generated his power and momentum from utilizing his entire body and having near perfect mechanics. His arm, which he brought forward a bit lower than a sidearm pitcher would, was doing less work, thus not having nearly as much strain put on it.

    Essentially, Johnson looked like he wasn't throwing the ball hard—and that he was barely using his arm.

    Columnist Ring Lardner commented on that very thing: "He's got a gun concealed about his person. They can't tell me he throws them balls with his arm."

Jim Abbott

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    One of the great feel-good stories in sports history, Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand, not only pitched in the major leagues, but he threw a no-hitter as well.

    Never thinking of himself as disabled or handicapped, Abbott figured out how to play his position.

    During his delivery, he would balance his glove on his right arm, and as soon as the ball left his hand, he'd quickly put the glove on his left hand so he was prepared to field.

Carl Hubbell

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    An eight-time All-Star, two-time National League MVP and a member of the Hall of Fame, Carl Hubbell spent his entire 16-year career with the New York Giants.

    In the 1934 All-Star Game, Hubbell struck out five Hall of Famers in a row: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Nellie Fox, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin, relying on his favorite pitch, the screwball.

    Hubbell's delivery was so violent that by the time he retired in 1943 at the age of 40, his left arm had been permanently disfigured from the abuse he put it through.

Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown

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    Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949, Mordecai Brown won two World Series championships with the Chicago Cubs and kept hitters off balance for more than a decade.

    From 1906 through 1911, Brown won no fewer than 20 games in a season, going a combined 148-55 with a 1.63 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP.

    As we can see from the video, he had a very unique delivery (pay attention to his right arm).

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

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    Maybe he doesn't belong on this list, as his antics were on display in between pitches, but you can't compile a list involving quirky pitchers and not mention Mark Fidrych.

    His career lasted only five years due to injury, but he will forever be remembered as one of the most entertaining players the game has ever seen.

    On the mound, Fidrych would talk to himself. He'd talk to the ball. Sometimes, he'd stand on the mound and hold the ball as if he were about to throw a dart at a dartboard.

    Other times, he'd crouch down on the mound and begin to smooth out the cleat marks left by others. If a ball had been hit too many times, he'd refuse to pitch until it was removed from the game.

    Like I said, you can't possibly write about quirky baseball players and not include Mark Fidrych.


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