The funkiest windups in MLB history

March 7th, 2021

Baseball is unique among the sports in so many ways, but one of them captures our attention every few seconds of a game: the pitcher with the funky windup and delivery. Just as every batter has his own stance, every pitcher has his own windup, and certain pitchers' motions are unorthodox, to say the least. Here's a look at some of the weirdest windups in MLB history.

'Look to the sky'

Fernando Valenzuela
He captivated the baseball world to such an extent in 1981 that the word "Fernandomania" was coined to describe the incredible phenomenon of fans packing Dodger Stadium to see him pitch. As he began his windup, he would lift his arms over his head, and as he began to bring them down to meet his right leg, he'd "look to the sky," as the legendary Vin Scully would say.

Valenzuela made his MLB debut for the Dodgers in 1980, but made his first start on April 9, 1981 against the Astros in Los Angeles. The left-hander proceeded to throw five straight complete games, including four shutouts, and ended up with a run of seven complete games (five shutouts) in his first eight career starts.

With his baffling screwball, Valenzuela became the first pitcher in MLB history to win his league's Rookie of the Year Award and Cy Young Award in the same season in 1981. Valenzuela pitched for 17 seasons in the Majors, but his glory years came with the Dodgers from 1980-90. On June 29, 1990, he tossed a no-hitter against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

The Magicians -- Making the ball disappear

Hideo Nomo
Let's stick with another famous Dodger, shall we? There was Fernandomania, and then, 14 years later, there was "Nomomania." Nomo became the second Japanese-born player to appear in a Major League game when he took the mound at Candlestick Park against the Giants on May 2, 1995. The only other Japanese-born player to play in the Majors was another right-handed pitcher, Masanori Murakami, who pitched for the Giants from 1964-65.

Nomo was sensational, unveiling his unorthodox windup, which involved raising both arms straight up in the air, then torqueing his body so that his back faced the batter before taking the ball out of his glove and hiding it behind his body. Then, when his body unwound he released the suddenly reemerging ball toward the plate. He struck out seven and walked four over five scoreless innings of one-hit ball in a 4-3, 15-inning Dodgers loss.

Nomo was named the 1995 NL Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting. He also started that year's All-Star Game at the Ballpark in Arlington. Nomomania wasn't long-lived -- Nomo had another strong season in '96, one that included the only no-hitter in Coors Field history, but his decline began the following season and he became a journeyman toward the end of his career. Still, he had a 12-year MLB career that included another no-hitter and another stint with the Dodgers from 2002-04.

Tim Lincecum
They called him the "Freak" because somehow his small frame produced a 96 mph fastball when he made his Major League debut with the Giants in 2007. The right-hander used an unusual windup that produced a great amount of torque to add velocity to his fastball, which he paired masterfully with a devastating changeup -- upon lifting his left leg to begin his windup, he turned his entire body toward center field, hid the baseball behind his right hip and then exploded toward the plate.

Lincecum won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2008 and '09, and in the following year led San Francisco's vaunted pitching staff to the franchise's first World Series title since moving to San Francisco in 1958. It was Lincecum's Game 5 masterpiece against a powerful Rangers lineup in the 2010 Fall Classic that put the Giants on the cusp of winning it all. He then threw no-hitters in 2013 and '14 against the Padres.

Ubaldo Jiménez
Jiménez was one of the most successful starting pitchers in Rockies history, posting a 3.66 ERA (128 ERA+) over six seasons with Colorado, including an incredible 2010 campaign in which he finished with a 2.88 ERA (161 ERA+) and was third in NL Cy Young Award voting. He also threw the only no-hitter in Rockies history on April 17 of that season against the Braves at Turner Field.

The right-hander's pitching motion was kind of herky-jerky, but featured taking the baseball way behind his back leg so that it was tough, if not impossible, to see until it was already on its way to the plate. Overall, Jiménez pitched 12 seasons in the Majors, finishing with a 4.34 ERA (100 ERA+), also pitching for the Indians and Orioles after being traded by Colorado.

Alex Wood
Wood, a left-hander who tilts his upper body dramatically toward the back of the mound during his delivery, also hides the ball well behind his back leg, showing it only a split second before it's on its way toward the hitter. He was an up-and-coming left-hander in the Braves organization, and for a time, it looked as though he might become a star. He made his MLB debut with the Braves in 2013, and in his two full seasons with Atlanta (he was traded during the third), he posted a 2.89 ERA over 249 1/3 innings.

Wood was dealt to the Dodgers, and from 2016-18, he turned in a 3.29 ERA for Los Angeles, including a 2.72 ERA over 27 appearances (25 starts) in 2017 to help his club reach the World Series. But that offseason, Wood was traded to Cincinnati, and endured an injury-plagued '19, struggling to a 5.80 ERA in seven starts. He returned to the Dodgers last year, but threw only 12 2/3 innings due to injury.

Joey Lucchesi
Lucchesi has a combination of unorthodox moves in his windup. The left-hander starts with his arms straight up over his head, then brings them back down before officially beginning his delivery to the plate. He then goes back over his head to begin the motion and brings his hands toward his midsection, where they meet a big leg kick before taking the ball back behind his left leg much like Wood. The hitter has to somehow make sense of a jumble of arms and legs before the ball gets on him quick.

Masters of the leg kick

Juan Marichal
The "Dominican Dandy" dominated the NL during the 1960s for the Giants, posting a 2.57 ERA and completing 197 games over the decade. He led the NL in wins twice (25 in 1963, 26 in '68) and the Majors with a 2.10 ERA in 1969. The Hall of Fame right-hander is famous for his very high leg kick during his windup, and that pose is captured in the form of a statue to honor him outside Oracle Park in San Francisco. Over a 16-year career, Marichal went 243-142 with a 2.89 ERA.

Orlando Hernandez
"El Duque" was sensational in his first year in the Majors after defecting from Cuba in 1998, helping the Yankees win their second World Series championship in three years. The brother of Livan Hernandez, who was the MVP of the 1997 World Series for the Marlins, El Duque dazzled on the mound with a delivery that included a very high leg kick that brought his knee up to his left shoulder. The results weren't bad, either -- Hernandez finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, posting a 3.13 ERA over 21 starts for New York in the regular season.

In October, Hernandez yielded just one run over 14 innings (0.64 ERA) between AL Championship Series Game 4 against the Indians and then World Series Game 2 against the Padres. In the '99 postseason, he turned in a 1.20 ERA over four starts and was named MVP of the ALCS against the Red Sox. He won two more rings with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, and pitched through 2007 for the White Sox, D-backs and Mets.

Dontrelle Willis
"D-Train" took the baseball world by storm in 2003, when he helped lead the Marlins to a World Series championship while winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award. The big left-hander finished his debut season with a 3.30 ERA over 27 starts for Florida, including two shutouts. While he had a rough first two rounds of the postseason that fall, Willis pitched 3 2/3 scoreless frames out of the bullpen in the World Series against the Yankees.

Willis had a unique delivery, especially for someone his size -- he would lift his right leg all the way up to around his collarbone while turning his back to the hitter, then release the ball out of that maze of arms and legs.

The Submariners

Dan Quisenberry
Quisenberry was one of the most dominant relievers in the game from 1980-87. Over that span, he had a 2.49 ERA with 232 saves for the Royals, finishing in the top five for AL Cy Young Award voting five times and runner-up twice. With his submarine-style delivery that involved his release point being nearly the mound itself, Quisenberry helped the Royals win their first AL pennant in 1980, set a then-record with 45 saves in '83, and helped Kansas City win its first World Series title in '85. Off the mound, he was extremely quotable and also quite the poet.

Kent Tekulve
Tekulve was a workhorse of a reliever for the Pirates, Phillies and Reds from 1974-89, with most of his career coming with Pittsburgh from 1974-85. The right-hander unleashed pitches sidearm and the spin he put on the baseball baffled hitters for more than a decade. Tekulve led the NL in relief appearances four times and pitched more than 100 innings in a season seven times. He appeared in five of the seven games in the 1979 World Series, and was on the mound when the final out was made to clinch the championship for the Pirates over the Orioles.

Chad Bradford
Yes, he's known from his "Moneyball" fame, but Bradford's delivery is what made him unforgettable long before that movie was made. The right-handed reliever had only appeared in 44 Major League games when the White Sox traded him to the A's prior to the 2001 season. Over the next three seasons, his submarine-style delivery baffled hitters and led to an even 3.00 ERA (147 ERA+) for Oakland. He went on to pitch for the A's until they traded him to the Red Sox in 2005. He also pitched for the Mets, Orioles and Rays in a 12-year career. He appeared in 24 postseason games and was stellar, posting a 0.39 ERA.

Pat Neshek
Neshek was unique in that he didn't deliver the pitch overhand, but he didn't go low either -- he was somewhere in between, and particularly for right-handed hitters, that was a major problem. The right-handed reliever began his career with the Twins, pitching for Minnesota from 2006-10. But he really began having success while with the A's from 2012-13 -- over that span, he posted a 2.70 ERA in 69 appearances.

Neshek was an All-Star the following season with the Cardinals, and that began a period in which he pitched for four teams in six years. His final season came in 2019, when he had a 5.00 ERA over 20 appearances for the Phillies.

The Timing Disruptors

Johnny Cueto
The shimmy. Perhaps what makes it so great is that it is ever-changing. There could be a single pause, a double-shimmy, an incredibly slow windup thanks to what seems to be an interminable halt in the motion just before the ball is to be delivered, or even a quick-pitch. Cueto is an artist on the mound, both with the pitches he throws and the way he delivers them. Once asked whether he improvised the moves on the spot or if they were premeditated, he simply responded: "It comes from the heart."

Daisuke Matsuzaka
"Dice-K" signed with the Red Sox to great fanfare, particularly in his native Japan, in 2007. The right-hander made his MLB debut that season after eight seasons with the Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball. His pitching motion was unique in that he would lift his arms up over his head, then pause, then bring his hands down to meet his left leg as he began his delivery to the plate. Needless to say, the timing mechanism threw off a few hitters.

Though he held his own in his rookie season (4.40 ERA over 204 2/3 innings), which ended in the Red Sox winning their second World Series title in four seasons, his finest campaign came in '08, when he posted a 2.90 ERA (160 ERA+) over 29 starts and finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting.

Luis Tiant
If you love watching Cueto, you would've loved to watch Tiant, who patented the windup in which the pitcher turns his back to the plate. Tiant, who pitched primarily for the Indians and Red Sox over a 19-year big league career, actually seemed to rotate on an axis, with his right leg being the axis and his upper body rotating toward center field and then unleashing the pitch out of obscurity as it rotated back toward home plate.

Tiant's best performances came in 1968 with Cleveland (AL-best 1.60 ERA over 258 1/3 innings) and '72 with Boston (MLB-best 1.91 ERA over 179 innings). He threw three complete games, including a shutout, in the 1975 postseason for the Red Sox, who lost the World Series in seven games to the Reds.

The Skippers

Carter Capps
The first time you see Capps' delivery, you note that he would hide the baseball behind his back leg much like the "magicians" noted above. But that isn't the weirdest part -- he would then skip forward and down the mound, jumping toward the hitter, as he released the ball. Capps was having a tremendous 2015 campaign for the Marlins, with a 1.16 ERA over 30 relief appearances before straining his elbow. He ended up having Tommy John surgery and wasn't the same after that, appearing in only 11 more MLB games with the Padres in 2017.

Jordan Walden
Walden was also a "skipper," though to a lesser degree than Capps and without the accompanying hidden ball trick. The right-handed reliever pitched for the Angels, Braves and Cardinals from 2010-15, and was an All-Star in '11, when he had a 2.98 ERA over a career-high 60 1/3 innings out of the bullpen.

The ... Stumbler?

Mitch Williams
Ever see a pitcher fall down while trying to deliver a pitch? How about one who does that on every pitch. That would be Williams, also known as "Wild Thing" for his erratic control. Somehow, the left-hander became an All-Star closer despite walking 17 percent of the batters he faced during his 11-year MLB career, which finished with a 3.65 ERA (111 ERA+).

Williams' delivery was normal enough, but it was what happened afterward that everyone remembers -- he would fall off the mound toward the third-base side and land on his hands and knees. Williams will also be remembered for surrendering Joe Carter's World Series-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1993 Fall Classic between the Phillies and Blue Jays.