Johnny Cueto’s Twist

Johnny Cueto came off the disabled list and started for the Reds last night. He had been on the disabled list due to a sore right oblique; it was the same injury he experienced during last season’s playoffs. His unique twisting windup seems to be the reason that he’s suffered the same ailment twice now, and he has said he might consider changing his delivery to correct the problem in the future.

When Cueto pitches, he twists his mid section and turns his back to the hitter to increase deception. Here is a look at his complete windup.

The heavy twisting motion is fairly rare in the majors, as only a few pitchers have utilized this motion over the years. Luis Tyant (video). Hideo Nomo (video). Felix Hernandez did it somewhat for a couple of years (video, 42 sec mark), though not to the extent Cueto does, and doesn’t twist as dramatically anymore.

While the full body twist is not the most common pitching motion, it has shown to be fairly effective for the pitchers while they were using it. Or, at least, the pitchers who used it were effective while pitching in that manner.

However, the extra turning motion puts extra stress on a person’s mid-section. While I would not call Cueto fat, he doesn’t have the ideal athletic body type. His body type may not be able to keep up the extreme twisting. He stated that he believes he may need to change his delivery to limit injuries in the future.

“This is part of the game, part of the sport,” Cueto said. “You can say maybe I do too much rotation. I’m going to have to see what’s going on. If that continues to happen, I’m going to have to change my mechanics.”

Well, if his first start back is any indication, the 27-year-old right hander didn’t change his mechanics while on the DL. Here is an image from his last throw before going on the DL and one of his first since returning:

Even though his motion was the same, he seemed a little off last night. He never seemed comfortable and had problems finding the strike zone. Only 42% of his pitches were in the strike zone (47.5% career average). He stuck out eight batters (thanks to some horrible swings by the Met batters), but also walked four. Even though his average velocity was constant, he was not able to main the velocity over the course of the game.

It will be interesting to see if Cueto adjusts the twist in his pitching motion. If he does make an adjustment, further questions will arise. Will he be able to maintain his velocity? Will he get hit harder since his windup will lack as much deception? Will his new delivery lead to other physical problems? Only time will tell. For right now, he looks like he might take his chances with his old delivery and hope to avoid another stint on the DL.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

22 Responses to “Johnny Cueto’s Twist”

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  1. Blastings! says:

    Typo: “deliverly”

    I watched the game yesterday and Kuwait-o seemed to be improving his control as the game progressed, though the Mets were also flailing with increasingly desperate ferocity.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      Thanks. Corrected.

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    • jwharris10 says:

      I agree, it did seem like he got into a flow or rhythm after he gave up the homer. He retired 8 straight batters before being taken out.

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  2. Phil says:

    I’m always concerned about his left knee, that motion cannot be good for his mensicus (mensici?)

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    • hmk says:

      well you’re only talking about his left knee, so “meniscus”…

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      • Ben says:

        While we are being pedantic, there’s both a lateral and medial meniscus in both of normal human’s knees. As far as I (or likely any of us) know, Mr. Cueto was born with these menisci and has not had any meniscus completely resected.

        I’ve got no clue whether this motion would impart extra stress on both, one, or none of his menisci in either knee. It seems more relevant to be concerned about his RIGHT (not LEFT) knee as it is the one that appears to be grotesquely torqued in the above pics.

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        • Visionary1 says:

          Agreed, the left menisci aren’t carrying any weight, so they can’t be suffering much strain.

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    • James Andrews says:

      anything where you plant and twist imparts added strain to the menisci. So anything adding additional planting force or twisting motion would exacerbate it.

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  3. Owen says:

    Lincecum uses a twisting motion in his delivery too.

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  4. snoop LION says:

    Could we get splits for Cueto in the stretch vs windup and league average numbers as well?

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  5. Televators says:

    It’s too bad baseball’s not like UI design. I would love to A / B test Cueto’s twist.

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  6. CabreraDeath says:

    Jeff Locke has said that he mimicked his wind-up from watching Ted Lilly. I don’t think either are as pronounced as Cueto, but I would think we could add them to the list of pitchers who utilize the ‘twist’.


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  7. tynandaly says:

    5-10 215 lbs? I’d call him fat.

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  8. GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat says:

    He was rusty but looked fine.

    He’s also a tremendous athlete. One of the most fit players on the team. Strong core.

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  9. MSpitz says:

    A couple years ago Brandon Morrow changed his delivery so that he turned his back to the plate a little more. I think it was for a more consistent motion though, not for deception. And sure enough, IIRC, he’s had oblique problems the last two years too

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