An Analysis of Johnny Cueto’s Shimmy

An Analysis of Johnny Cueto’s Shimmy

Written by: Kai Franke
Follow him on Twitter: @KaiFranke3
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On Opening Night, the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the San Francisco Giants in the nightcap. Johnny Cueto got the start for the Giants and the talk during the game was about him. No, not about his stuff or having any pitches that pop off the charts, but about how he’d “mess” with the timing of hitters by changing windup randomly. What is called the shimmy, Cueto changes from his normal delivery to this one:

Of course, this is not that game, but this is what he did and as you can see by how Molina reacted to it, he had to start and then restart his swing. As I was watching this game, I started to wonder: Was this effective? I decided to dig in and see whether or not it did anything that night.

There is no public data available quite yet for different wind-ups, so I had to go about this the long way; I watched his whole start and decided what type of delivery he threw. I decided on five types: normal, stretch, quick pitch, shimmy, and low leg-kick. This may not be perfect and a little bit subjective, but this is the best way to do this at the moment.

Also, keep in mind, this is only one start so this will be an extremely small sample size and will not be 100% correct. Once we can get this data from Statcast or anything else, it will be much easier to draw conclusions from it.  

Here is his normal windup:

Here’s his quick pitch:

That delivery seemed like it was able to surprise hitters and get them to be late on pitches, while the shimmy gets hitters to be early in their stride. The shimmy is also said to affect hitters with high leg kicks more than others as well. 

In watching Cueto, I was able to pick out 25 normal deliveries, 18 from the stretch, 9 quick pitches, 7 shimmies, and 1 low leg-kick. 3 of the shimmies were against Justin Turner, who has a high leg-kick, does that ring a bell? 

Now that I have counted and recorded the result of each windup type along with the pitch type, I can see how he was able to perform with it! Here was his performance by windup type:

By looking at this chart, you can see that Cueto performed great with his shimmy, not even allowing a hit and on his two balls in play, hitters averaged an exit velocity of 78.35 mph. He was able to throw strikes with it as he was able to throw a strike 60% of the time, one of which was a whiff. 

However, his worst pitch, besides the low leg-kick which only had one pitch, was his normal windup which was hit the hardest, performed the worst, and had the highest distance hit. That’s the complete opposite of what I thought would happen, I’d feel like he’d be the best with his most natural windup. He was able to throw strikes with it the second most out of the pitches, though. 

Aside from his normal windup, it seemed as though he struggled with his stretch as much as his normal windup, he only threw strikes about a fourth of the time with it. The xBA was almost as high as the normal one at .270, it would’ve been higher if batters were able to hit the ball in the air more often. This would seem to make sense, as when he got in trouble during the fourth inning of that game, he turned to his normal windup to execute his pitches better and possibly create some deception. 

Finally, with the quick pitch, he wasn’t able to throw many strikes, but the ball wasn’t hit hard, although his xBA was high. A goal with the quick pitch is to surprise hitters and potentially not have hitters swing at it, so even though there wasn’t a high strike % with that windup, there was only one swing at the quick pitch. That could’ve been caused by hitters being late in reacting to the release of the pitch.

A big reason why Cueto may seem to be able to throw strikes with his shimmy is possibly due to his great body control. He can bend, turn, stop, and go in his delivery and makes it look easy. This can be shown in his start on August 3rd in a pitch against Chris Owings:

Not only was I wondering if Cueto was able to succeed by changing his windup types, but I also wanted to figure out how hitters could prepare for a pitcher as unique as him. To do this, I took the windups and figured out the percentage that each pitch was thrown for them. Then, I went into RStudio to make some pie charts to create a good visual to see the frequency of the pitches. 

Here’s the code I made to get the pie charts, this one is specifically for the shimmy:

As you can see, I made two vectors, one for the number of pitches in for each pitch type and one for the pitch types themselves. I then added the percentage of pitch types to each label so that can be seen on the graph. Here are the pie charts for all of the windups besides the stretch, as he will not normally change from the stretch to the quick pitch or shimmy:

It appears that on both the shimmy and quick pitch, he throws his fastball more than he would in his normal windup at 43% and 44% compared to 32%, a hitter could expect with some degree of confidence that a fastball will be thrown. But with the shimmy, he throws it the same amount of the time, so when he tilts and twists, be ready for the changeup as well. 

For that quick pitch, the hitters can be safe to know that there will not be a curveball, although he does have a solid four-pitch mix as those pitches were thrown at least 11% of the time. Something else to mention, the sinker is a fastball as well, so he is fastball heavy on his quick pitch, which would make sense as the batter’s reaction would already be late so throwing a fastball would make sense to get the hitter even later. The same could be said for the shimmy with offspeed and breaking pitches as curveballs and changeups take up 57% of the pitches thrown, with that slow shimmy and getting hitters to set up their swing earlier, the slow pitch could make them be way out front.

As it is easier said than done, if hitters want to succeed against Cueto, they’re gonna have to be ready and early when that quick pitch comes and be patient for the shimmy. For hitters to be ready, I wanted to see if Cueto did his quick pitch or shimmy randomly or on certain counts. I made a chart with the type of windup, hitter, and count to show this:

Cueto seems like he does his shimmy in primarily two-strike counts, he only had one that wasn’t and it was against Justin Turner, who he did it to three times in a row. He never threw a quick pitch on a two-strike count and it seemed a little more random than the shimmy, one pattern that is shown here though is that he did it on four 0-0 counts, this may be to surprise hitters and try to sneak a first-pitch strike. 

One last thing I wanted to see with Cueto’s deception is to see if he “tunneled” them at all. I’ll call it windup tunneling. Usually, a pitcher would tunnel a fastball up with a curveball down, but I wanted to see how often he went from a quick pitch to a shimmy and vice versa. Here are three instances that I picked out of windup tunneling:

*SS = swinging strike

**?Normal = not counted

Two of these at-bats resulted in strikeouts, AJ Pollock’s was looking and Austin Barnes’s was swinging. The Barnes at-bat seemed to show the biggest effects of the windup tunneling working as he was able to get a whiff on that last change, and he also came back from a 3-0 count by using it as well. In the Pollock at-bat, it wasn’t a direct tunnel, but going from a quick pitch to normal to shimmy wouldn’t let the hitter get settled into a certain type of timing the whole at-bat and make him uncomfortable. Cody Bellinger’s at-bat was similar to Barnes’s as it started with the normal windup and ended with windup tunneling. In this extremely small sample, windup tunneling worked.

As stated earlier, MLB hasn’t released any way that Statcast can track the type of windup, though that could change soon with Hawk-Eye now in place. When we do have that data we could see how much Cueto succeeds with these changes rather quickly, and we could even see how it compares to windup deception like Marcus Stroman’s stutter-step. But for now, the only way to evaluate this is by being a little bit subjective on what windup is being used and then taking that data and doing what I did here. With all of this said, this was all data from just one start, so any of this could easily change throughout a season, or what type of batters he faces, like Justin Turner. But I feel this gives a good brief look at how Cueto utilizes this deception and once we get more data, this could be validated.

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