The Greater Significance of Bronson Arroyo’s Leg Kick

I’ve always loved Bronson Arroyo’s leg kick. There’s some whimsy in it, is maybe why. At the very least, it represents a different mechanical approach than one finds elsewhere in the league.

Turns out, there are reasons against flinging the lead leg out into space like Arroyo does — and yet, his reasons for doing it make some sort of sense, as well. And in between the two, there’s even something about the future of baseball in that kick. It’s a kick that contains multitudes.

First, let’s revel in its glory — in this case, from the hitter’s view. Is it… majestic?

He can certainly not pitch that way. He tries not doing it in games sometimes, even. In his first start against the Giants this year, he started working in this alternate delivery once the lineup came through a third time.

While mixing it up is probably good for Arroyo, the big signature kick adds a bit of deception for a player who’s been fourth-best at beating his fielding-independent numbers since he entered the league in 2000 (minimum 2000 innings). Might that leg kick be part of why the league has had a hard time squaring him up? They have a .288 batting average on balls in play over his career.

Deception is a funny thing. The same quality that creates deception for a pitcher may look like a problem to certain coaches who have an ideal motion in mind. And so it was with Arroyo. “Way back in the day they did,” confirmed Arroyo of the desire to soften the leg kick. “It took me until about A or High-A and people were like, ‘Let’s just try it without,'” the starter said before a game against the Giants this month.

The reason they wanted to take the kick from him had nothing to do with Arroyo, specifically. “The theory was, the reason they didn’t like it, the average person’s hamstrings aren’t flexible enough,” Arroyo said of the reasoning. “And if you were going to go like this [kicks], you’d tip back. They want your posture to be kinda forward.”

Being closer to crouched over your crotch seems like an athletic stance. Falling backwards seems less ideal. So, in some ways, that’s a duh. But it ignores the fact of this particular pitcher in front of you right now. This particular pitcher with these particular hamstrings. It also ignores how little of mechanics optimization is actually proven with good scientific method. Much of it is actually “ex post justification pseudoscience eyewash” according to Driveline’s Kyle Boddy, who prefers to work with the scientific method with his pitching-development lab.

I asked Arroyo for his own explanation of the kick. Was it a cue to stay back? Was it about deception? No. Neither. Turns out, it was about a classic pitcher he loved watching as a child. “That was what my childhood brain brought out of copying Dwight Gooden,” Arroyo said of his kick, smiling. “When I did it, my foot was just relaxed out like that. It’s evolved a little, but that’s where it was born.”

Seems impossible, and maybe even more so when you watch Gooden in 1985:

Well, I guess Gooden does kick the leg out a bit. It’s interesting that Arroyo was mimicking Gooden and ended up with his very different looking delivery, but that sort of thing happens when we’re kids. Patrick Dubuque may have thought his poor understanding of pitch grips was unique to his childhood experience, but here we have evidence that all of us were just trying (and failing, mostly) to look like the adults who did things we liked.

And here’s where this all becomes meaningful for the future of baseball. As a community, we’re collectively trying to encourage interest in the sport from younger generations. I can’t speak for all kids, but I do know that my friend group was fascinated by people like Harold Baines, Julio Franco, Gary Sheffield, Doc Gooden, Orlando Hernandez… we loved the strange looking mechanics, we loved the individuality and the expressiveness back then in mid-80s Atlanta.

As a baseball community, we’re also interested in doing something about all these injuries. We want best practices, and we want the memos to go out to coaches at all levels. It’s starting now with pitch limits and rest requirements, but it’s not long until those recommendations come with moving images and examples of “good deliveries.” Maybe that’s a good idea: there certainly are too many pitching injuries right now. But maybe it’s not: what if those so-called optimized deliveries are no better than the ones we have?

Think back to little Bronson Arroyo, watching Doc Gooden on his television and then heading out to the mound to play. Think of the birth of that kick. Giddiness mixed with nostalgia is absolutely the appropriate response. Should we tell kid Arroyo to stop? Years before we know his hamstrings can handle it? Should we erase that connection between what came before and what will come later? And all the deception that may come with it? Should we stop all of that in the name of his future ligament health? What if we’re wrong?

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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backward galaxy
7 years ago

I honestly had no idea he was still in the league.