What’s the weirdest pitching delivery in MLB history?

Baseball News
1 month ago

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Since arriving in the majors last month, Giants right-hander Tyler Rogers has dominated opposing hitters with a deceptive delivery. Is it the weirdest of all time?

Late last month, the Giants righted a long-standing organizational wrong and called up right-handed reliever Tyler Rogers, a submariner who had arguably been the most dominant pitcher in all of Triple-A for each of the past two seasons but had been continually passed over — even for a major-league spring training invite — despite the fact that San Francisco struggled mightily at the big-league level in 2016 and ‘17.

Rogers was presumably being looked upon unfavorably for his lack of velocity, and as he struggled to adjust to the new (juiced?) ball in 2019 and the Giants maintained one of the best bullpens in the majors for most of the season, it seemed as if maybe his opportunity had passed. But as he experienced a strong month of August at Triple-A Sacramento, the Giants traded away a few major-league relievers and sustained a couple injuries in the bullpen. New president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi — never one to treat velocity as the end-all, be-all — finally decided to give the now-28-year-old reliever a chance, and man, has he been rewarded for taking that risk.

In an era where it’s nearly impossible for pitchers to get to the majors — or even stick around in the minors, for that matter — without possessing at least a mid-90s fastball, Rogers has served as a nice, unbelievably-fun-to-watch reminder that anyone can get to the majors with enough perseverance and a willingness to develop a niche skill set. The 2013 10th-round pick is averaging 82.0 MPH with his sinker but has managed to fool hitters (and that’s probably putting it lightly) with an extremely unorthodox submarine delivery. Working out of the stretch, Rogers fully extends his right arm behind his body, bends over so much that the lettering on his jersey faces the ground, nearly scrapes the dirt on the pitching mound with his hand, and then contorts himself so aggressively during his follow-through that his glove often ends up colliding with his face. As you’ll see here, it’s equal parts entertaining and cringeworthy to witness:

Tyler Rogers is a lot of fun to watch: pic.twitter.com/5nEvAXlqxB

— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 28, 2019

Rogers has been one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball (making those who declined to call him up over the past two-and-a-half years look pretty foolish) since his call-up, posting a 1.42 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, and a .159 opponent batting average with eight strikeouts and two walks over 12.2 innings in 13 games since his promotion. Obviously it’s a pretty small sample size and relievers are rather volatile as a whole, but at least for the time being, Rogers has proven that you can trip up major-league hitters with more than just a triple-digit fastball.

In recognition of Rogers’ crazy delivery and his recent success, I set out on a research project to answer my burning question: Is Rogers’ delivery the weirdest in the history of Major League Baseball? I went through some of the most unorthodox ones, settling on a top 12 and ranking them on a 1-10 weirdness scale, so you’ll just have to keep reading to find out whether Rogers’ is actually the most bizarre.

Just a couple of clarifications up front: I’m rather confident that some of the most bizarre deliveries in the history of baseball were on display during the 1800s and early 20th century, especially considering that overhand throws weren’t even allowed until 1884. Unfortunately, since we don’t really have video of guys from that area — and really, up until the 1960s and ‘70s for the most part — it’s hard to go back and make a fair, informed judgment on them, so I wasn’t able to factor those pitchers into the debate. Additionally, with all the respect in the world for pitchers like Luis Tiant, Satchel Paige, Juan Marichal, Johnny Cueto, Hideo Nomo, and Kevin Brown who deceived thousands of hitters over the years with unorthodox windups, my focus here is on the actual delivery — the shift of weight towards the plate and the angle at which the ball is released. So without further ado, here are the 12 weirdest deliveries in modern baseball history. (If you have any objections or omissions, please leave them in the comments!)

Sid Fernandez, LHP, 1983-97

At first, Fernandez’s delivery appears unorthodox, but maybe not that different from those of the many other relievers who have made a living throwing with a sidearm motion. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll notice that Fernandez’s left elbow snaps so violently that you’d think he’d suffered a UCL tear on every single pitch. His forearm shifts upward, causing the ball to be released at a higher angle than with a standard sidearm motion, surely causing extra stress for hitters. It’s not that different from a normal sidearm delivery, but it’s certainly quite a bit more painful to watch.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 7.8

Josh Collmenter, RHP, 2011-17

In terms of release point, Collmenter was basically the polar opposite of Rogers, jerking to his left, picking up his right foot, and throwing so aggressively overhand that he released the ball close to where his head was at the start of the delivery. It’s hard to have a legendarily weird overhand delivery, but Collmenter’s release point was just so unorthodox that he managed to do so.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 8.1

Jordan Walden, RHP, 2010-15

Walden’s unusual delivery may have been a driving force in his career ending prematurely at the age of 27, but while he was healthy, he was one of the league’s most dominant relievers. Taking a crow hop with his back foot and landing on his front foot, Walden released the ball while he was basically mid-jump. This delivery may be deemed illegal if Walden was still pitching today, but during the time where he was active, it was unbelievably deceptive.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 8.2

Dan Quisenberry, RHP, 1979-90

Beyond just being a submariner, which is extremely unique by itself, Quisenberry pitched out of a windup, shifting his arm backward before his release so that he almost ended up looking like a softball pitcher. While his release angle wasn’t as extreme as those of the few submariners we see in professional baseball today, his delivery was so complex and atypical that it was surely a nightmare for hitters to try to pick up.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 8.4

Byung-hyun Kim, RHP, 1999-2007

Kim’s delivery is somewhere between sidearm and submarine, so violent that he follows through in a one-legged pivot with his right leg shifting all the way across his left thigh. Very painful-looking, and undoubtedly hard for hitters to identify and make contact with.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 8.5

Chad Bradford, RHP, 1998-2009

Bradford, a central character in Moneyball, pitched with a delivery somewhat similar to Rogers’, nearly scraping the dirt with his right hand but then releasing the ball with such an upward trajectory that it often ended up near the top of the strike zone. Maybe not the most bizarre submarine delivery of all time, but it’s definitely up there.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 8.8

Adam Cimber, RHP, 2018-

Cimber is Rogers’ closest counterpart in the majors today — he didn’t reach the major leagues until his late 20s, and he’s the only other pitcher in the big leagues right now who utilizes a legitimate submarine-style delivery. Cimber gets an extra weirdness bump because he releases the ball so far away from his body, forcing hitters to deal with the release point being both much lower and much further to the right than usual.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 8.9

Kazuhisa Makita, RHP, 2018

The Padres brought a 33-year-old Makita over from Japan as a high-profile acquisition for the 2018 campaign, but they quickly jettisoned him to Triple-A, used him as a human yo-yo for the last five months of the season, and outrighted him off the 40-man roster at the end of the year. Though he stuck around in North America this year and spent the entire season in the minors, Makita’s time in the big leagues is likely behind him. Fortunately, at least for a short while, we got to witness this delivery, in which he almost completely bends over and comes close to touching the ground before the ball fires out of his hand with an upward trajectory.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 9.0

Mitch Williams, LHP, 1986-97

Falling to the ground and looking like you’ve suffered some sort of freakish leg injury on every single pitch? That’s just extremely weird, no further explanation required.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 9.3

Tyler Rogers, RHP, 2019-

We covered Rogers’ mechanics in detail at the top of this article, but the main reason he’s ranked as the most unorthodox of the submariners here is because everything about his delivery is just so extreme — he seems to bend over, drop his entire right arm lower, and come closer to the ground with his right hand than any of the others. It’s honestly pretty amazing that he finishes his delivery so calmly, and that might enable him to be more consistent at the major-league level than guys like Kim and Cimber who have had wild follow-throughs. Perhaps recency bias is at work here, but Rogers’ delivery really does seem weirder than those of all the other submariners in recent memory.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 9.6

Carter Capps, RHP, 2012-17

Capps has come closer than any other pitcher in recent memory to having his delivery outlawed and his niche effectively taken away from him. In 2017, MLB instituted a new rule that did not necessarily ban Capps’ unique delivery, but certainly prevented him from being able to make it any more unorthodox than it already was. Capps aggressively hopped off his back foot to start the motion, landing on his front foot at the bottom of the mound and essentially cutting a couple feet off the distance between himself and the hitter. If that wasn’t enough weirdness already, he also released the ball at somewhat of a three-quarters angle. As a result, he was arguably the most dominant reliever in baseball for a short stretch, posting a 1.16 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP in 2015 before suffering a season-ending elbow strain that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, much like his crow-hopping counterpart Jordan Walden, a combination of injuries (both the Tommy John and a blood clot) and his struggles to adjust to a slightly-tamer delivery seem to have prematurely ended his career, as the 29-year-old did not pitch during the 2019 season.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 9.8

Steve Hamilton, LHP, 1961-72

Yes, we’re cheating with this one to a certain degree, because Hamilton didn’t start throwing his famous “Folly Floater” until late in his career, and even then, his delivery was different on his other pitches. With that said, pitching motions don’t get weirder — after winding up, he plants his right foot, doesn’t shift his weight at all, and basically delivers the pitch from an upright, standing position. It’s quite frankly unbelievable that he managed to throw this pitch on a regular basis — there’s a reason that the pitch was deemed illegal the first time he tried to throw it in the National League in 1971. Eephus pitches are always weird, but this one is just off the charts.

WEIRDNESS SCORE: 10.0


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