MLB History: Iconic Pitching Motions of the 21st Century

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Throughout MLB history, a lot of players have become known for different aspects that made them unique. These items range from just a batting stance to a pregame ritual. Kids would try to mimic while playing wiffleball in their backyards. Here, we will discuss some pitching motions that have become well-recognized since the turn of the century.

MLB History: Pitching Motions

These pitchers had some aspect of their pitching motions that made them stand out. Some characteristics include an alarmingly low arm slot or a big leg-kick.

Bronson Arroyo

Bronson Arroyo‘s leg-kick was painful to watch and wasn’t easy to imitate, but he was able to succeed with it. He wasn’t a fireballer, but he was an All-Star in 2006 and consistently threw over 200 innings per season.

Chad Bradford

Chad Bradford is a pitcher that I always wanted to mimic. In fact, his pitching motion is the reason why I throw sidearm. His wrist would practically skim the ground every time he threw the ball, and that would allow him to generate a lot of ground balls. While he didn’t throw a blazing fastball, Bradford faced over 2,100 batters in his career and only allowed 28 homers.

Carter Capps

Many baseball fans are baffled as to how MLB allowed Capps to continue to pitch the way he did. He would hop and step before releasing his pitch, getting at least a foot off the mound before throwing. His motion is one of the more recognizable in MLB history not just for his borderline illegal maneuver, but also for his near triple-digits fastball.

Johnny Cueto

Cueto‘s pitching motion is one that my friends and I would mimic even while just playing catch. He would basically turn his back to the batter, and sometimes he would add a shimmy to his motion to further throw off the hitter’s timing. Cueto enjoyed a good amount of success too, making two All-Star Games and finishing as high as second in Cy Young voting.

Orlando Hernandez

Orlando Hernandez (better known as “El Duque”) has one of the most iconic leg-kicks in MLB history. The four-time World Series champion burst onto the scene with the Yankees in 1998 and remained an effective pitcher into his 40s. El Duque was fantastic in the postseason, pitching to 2.55 ERA in 106 innings and winning 1999 ALCS MVP. He also was one of the few pitchers in MLB history who threw an eephus pitch. For players and fans alike, El Duque was one of the most fun pitchers to watch.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw will go down as one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history, and his pitching motion is mimicked by not just fans, but his teammates too. The crazy part about Kershaw’s mechanics is that he was actually a sidearmer up until his junior year of high school. In the 2016 playoffs, Kershaw began occasionally throwing sidearm again, though for the most part comes over the top. He also throws one of the best curveballs in MLB history, one that many players can only dream of throwing.

Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel‘s throwing motion is best known for the way he dangles his arm before he comes to set. When he broke into the majors, I started imitating this motion when I would play wiffleball. My first thought when I first watched him pitch though was that his delivery was an arm injury waiting to happen, but he will likely go down as one of the best closers in MLB history.

Robb Nen

Nen‘s delivery was also borderline illegal, as he would do a toe-tap before releasing the ball. Normally this would result in a balk, but he was able to get away with it, and he dominated baseball from 1994-2002. Nen also featured a fastball that could reach triple digits and a wipeout slider.

Hideo Nomo

Hideo Nomo‘s pitching motion inspired his nickname “The Tornado.” Before releasing the ball, Nomo would twist so far that his back would be facing home plate. He enjoyed some success too, winning NL Rookie of the Year in 1995 and throwing two no-hitters.

Hideki Okajima

How Okajima had success with his pitching motion is a mystery to many baseball fans. The Japanese lefty would look towards the ground as he released the ball, which you would think would lead to all sorts of control problems, but he only averaged 3.2 walks per nine innings. He actually made the All-Star Game in 2007 and helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series title.

Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in MLB history and threw arguably the greatest pitch ever. His pitching motion is best known for the way he would come set when he would have a long pause and get low to the ground after getting his sign. His mechanics were consistent whether he was pitching out of the wind-up or out of the stretch.

Chris Sale

Chris Sale‘s pitching motion resembles that of Randy Johnson. Sale is also a lanky southpaw with a low arm slot and an electric pitching arsenal. He came up as a reliever and seemed destined for success as a closer, but he has been a seven-time All-Star as a starter. Sale isn’t one of the best pitchers in MLB history yet, but he has enough time left in his career where he could get close to some of Johnson’s accomplishments.

Max Scherzer

Similar to Sale, many people saw Scherzer as a future closer when he was drafted due to his low arm slot. Scherzer spent almost no time in the bullpen and became one of the best pitchers in baseball after getting traded to the Tigers. He is one of just eight pitchers in MLB history to win at least three Cy Young Awards. In addition to his explosive pitching motion, Scherzer is known for grunting loudly when he releases pitches.

Jordan Walden

Just like Carter Capps, Walden‘s pitching motion was somehow acceptable despite the fact that he would release the ball from in front of the pitching rubber. He would jump in the middle of his motion, which would throw hitters off. With his electric fastball, Walden was an All-Star as a rookie in 2011 and was an effective reliever during his career.

Dontrelle Willis

Dontrelle Willis is a pitcher I frequently watched terrorize the Mets when I was a child, but he was one of my favorite players because of his pitching motion. In some ways, he combined Arroyo and Nomo’s motion. D-Train had a big leg-kick and would twist his torso away from the hitter before releasing a pitch. Early on in his career, Willis looked as if he would go on to be one of the best pitchers in MLB history. He was a two-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and finished second in Cy Young Voting in 2005.

Unfortunately, Willis began to struggle with his command and battled an anxiety disorder after getting traded to the Tigers. His downfall was one of the more painful ones in MLB history, as he was beloved even by rival fans.

MLB History: Closing Thoughts on Pitching Motions

The 21st Century has featured some of the most recognizable pitching motions in MLB history. From low arm slots to big leg-kicks, to crazy torso rotations, these pitchers will forever be imitated during backyard wiffleball games.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.

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