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.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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9 years ago

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.

9 years ago
Reply to  Blastings!

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.