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Johnny Cueto's delivery has received a significant amount of attention in the past month. It has always been a funky one, evoking memories of Luis Tiant, but Cueto has recently added a wiggle at the top of his windup, a variation that both he and his former catcher in Cincinnati, Brayan Pena, dubbed the "rocking-chair" delivery. Most people were introduced to the new windup for the first time on July 7th against Ian Desmond.

The extra shimmy plus Desmond's reaction resulted in a GIF Heard 'Round the World. Cueto had peppered in a couple of rocking-chair pitches in the previous few starts and has since incorporated it into his arsenal with increasing frequency, most recently during Monday's four-hit shutout of the Tigers.

By my count, Cueto used a variation of the rocking chair—some with wiggles, some without—that incorporated a pronounced stall at the top of his motion at least 15 times on Monday. That didn't sit well with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who complained during the game to umpire Joe West that Cueto's delivery was illegal and expressed his frustration to reporters after the game. But the umpire crew deemed Cueto's delivery legal, and given that Carter Capps and Jordan Walden are still allowed to jump off the mound, it doesn't seem likely that MLB is going to ban Cueto from shimmying anytime soon.

As you probably know, the rocking-chair motion isn't the only way Cueto mixes up his delivery to throw off the timing of opposing hitters. Last September, Sam Miller wrote a great piece highlighting Cueto's quirks, notably how he varies his time between pitches, manages the running game, and quick-pitches on occasion. At the time, Sam wrote about Cueto's quick pitch:

It's not something he does regularly—in the following start, this past Tuesday, he didn't do it at all against the Cubs, and a quick Ask Jeeves search of Johnny Cueto +Quick Pitch turns up nothing. But in the September 11th game against the Cardinals, the one from which the GIFs above come, he slipped into it no fewer than five times.

The quick-pitch was something he'd mix in on occasion last year to catch a hitter by surprise, but for the most part he stuck to his typical corkscrew motion. Things have not been nearly that straightforward this season.

On opening day against the Pirates, Cueto quick-pitched 42 percent of the time with the bases empty. That was the most frequently he used the quick pitch in any start over the next two months but it became clear that the abbreviated version of his motion was becoming more than just something he would break out once in a blue moon. His use of the quick pitch has only increased over the past month.

Cueto has always been praised for his impeccable command; it's one of the reasons he's been one of the top pitchers in the league despite not having overpowering stuff. It's easy to see how one might be concerned that having an endless supply of deliveries could get in the way of a consistent release point.

However, this hasn't been the case with Cueto. The standard deviation of his horizontal and vertical release points this season compared to 2014 is extremely similar. In other words, he's been just as effective at consistently repeating his mechanics and release point this season despite mixing in more variations of his delivery. Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland has said as much, crediting Cueto for separating his hands at the same time regardless of what motion he is using.

Let's take a look at what Eiland is talking about. The following sequence is from Cueto's start on July 7th against the Nationals. In an at-bat against Tyler Moore in the top of the eighth inning, Cueto used three different deliveries on his first three pitches. First, a GIF of the three pitches in full speed, and then a comparison of how Cueto was able to control his body in the three cases.

The rocking-chair delivery is a more recent addition, with Cueto only incorporating the pause and occasional shimmy into his repertoire of deliveries since around the start of July. But while most of Cueto's deliveries fall into either the Luis Tiant, the quick pitch, or the rocking chair, Cueto will mix in other variations on occasion to keep hitters on their toes.

But as you saw earlier, Cueto's usage of the quick-pitch has ramped up in his most recent starts, with the crafty hurler opting for his hurried delivery more than 60 percent of the time in each of his last four starts. I suppose this raises the question of whether the purpose of the quick-pitch has changed for Cueto. When he was using it sparingly, he could catch hitters by surprise and occasionally result in them being late on a fastball. If you look at how he used the delivery earlier in the season, you can see that he would use it more frequently the second and third times through the order to give hitters different looks.

Time Through the Order

Quick Pitch% 4/6 – 6/26

Quick Pitch% 7/1 – 8/10










But now that the quick pitch is becoming more of the norm for Cueto, hitters should theoretically be expecting it. That was Nick Castellanos' takeaway from Monday's game:

I have a good feeling the next time I face him. I'm going to be a lot more comfortable. I really didn't know how to handle that quick pitch. Now I know. Just anticipate the quick pitch every time. If he does it, I'm ready. If he doesn't, then I can just re-set.

It would probably be wise for more hitters to follow the approach Castellanos intends when he next faces Cueto but it also made me wonder whether Cueto does tend to use his quick pitch more often in given scenarios.


Quick Pitch% 4/6 – 6/26

Quick Pitch% 7/1 – 8/10

Pitcher Ahead



Batter Ahead



Two Strikes






Even since Cueto has been incorporating his stalled motion, the trend across his usage of the quick-pitch has stayed consistent: He most often quick-pitches when ahead in the count and has used it approximately two-thirds of the time with two strikes since the start of the July.

Cueto used his quick-pitch so infrequently last season that it was hard to imagine it had any effect on his numbers. After all, it's his ability to command and manipulate his fastball along with his nasty changeup that have made him one of the top starting pitchers in the game. So has any of this actually showed up in Cueto's numbers this year?

With runners on base, Cueto sticks to a standard leg lift, so if there were going to be any recognizable effect, you would think it would show up in Cueto's runners-on-base splits. To this point, there's little statistical evidence of that.






Cueto 2014 bases empty






Cueto 2014 runners on






Cueto 2015 bases empty






Cueto 2015 runners on






League Ave. bases empty






MLB 2014-15 runners on






Cueto's walked fewer batters this year with the bases empty and has been slightly better at suppressing power but he also hasn't missed as many bats. You wouldn't necessarily expect a drastic effect from Cueto switching up his delivery but there's not really enough to say it's impacting his total line.

But Castellanos' comments show that there are batters who are affected by Cueto's varied deliveries, at least the first time around. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments and good hitters should be able to change their timing to match Cueto's deliveries. But if Cueto can force even a handful of batters to adjust or feel a little uncomfortable the first time they step into the box against him, that's a win, especially given that his incredible body control and ability to repeat his release point means it comes at little cost to him.

Thanks to Ben Lindbergh for research assistance.

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"Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing." - Warren Spahn.

Great stuff, Chris- this is really interesting.
How did you get a count of Quick Pitches for Cueto? It's not something tracked in PitchFX, is it>
You could say I spent too much time charting the past few days.
Great article, Chris. Really enjoyed reading it!
excellent article.