How to Pitch a Knuckleball

Throwing a knuckleball is tough to master, and hitting one is even more difficult for opposing batters intent upon hitting your pitches at any level of baseball. Most baseball pitches are thrown with the ball being released from the fingertips in a smooth motion, with spin guiding the flight of the ball as it travels towards the catcher. The arm, and wrist are active in providing a whip-like launch of the ball. The knuckleball, on the other hand, has little spin to it, as it is released in a catapult fashion from a grip utilizing the fingernails, and “stiff-armed” towards the target.

It can seem hard to even hold a baseball in a knuckleball grip, let alone throw it anywhere. Being so difficult to master, only a few knuckleball pitchers are active in any given year in the major leagues. For those who do manage to figure out how throw this unorthodox pitch, they can make batters look foolish as they try to swing at a ball that is never where they expect it to be. The normal elements that help a batter identify a pitch are absent, and his sense of timing the pitch is destroyed.

How to Pitch a Knuckleball

How to Pitch a Knuckleball

The actual grip on the baseball is not too difficult to describe. You try to dig your fingernails into the seams of the baseball enough to feel that you can hang onto it as it is held in the palm of the hand . Your thumb holds it in place from the other side of the ball. The tops of the knuckles above the fingernails should be pressed down against the ball for better grip, hence “the knuckleball”. This pitch cannot be thrown at full speed as a fast ball would, because it would be to hard to control. Also, the erratic motion of the baseball would diminish with as speed is increased. As the pitch is mastered, the varying of it’s speed is used to further confuse the batters timing.

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After practicing for years, literally, some pitchers can gain enough command, and control of the knuckleball to be able to get it near, or in the strike zone. Major league pitchers seldom throw the knuckleball much faster than 75 miles per hour, compared to a good fastball in the 90s. Some knuckleballers can deliver this pitch in the 50s, and watching a batter trying to hit it resembles watching children trying to catch a butterfly with their bare hands.

Just about all professional pitchers know how to throw a knuckleball, but are unable to master it well enough to make it a viable weapon in their arsenal of pitches. Following in the tradition of past knuckleball pitchers like Hoyt Wilhelm, Phil and Joe Niekro, and others in the current big leagues is Tim Wakefield. He is currently on a roll, and pitching well for his Boston Red Sox. If you can, watch a game in which he pitches to see the results of a pitcher who has mastered this amazing pitch, the knuckleball.

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The knuckleball is one of the most difficult pitches to throw in baseball. But if thrown right, it’s even harder to hit. Imagine those old cartoons where Bugs Bunny or some character pitches a ball and it circles, loops, stops in mid-air, then speeds up and zooms off again, leaving Porky Pig baffled. A great knuckleball looks like that to a batter – it leaves them baffled.

Few pitchers throw the knuckleball because it is so tough to control. Most major league pitchers need pinpoint accuracy, which is why they tend to stay away from the knuckleball. This is why you will hear an announcer refer to a pitcher who regular throws this pitch as a “knuckleballer.”

The goal of throwing a knuckleball is to put little or no spin on the ball. This has two results. First, it’s tough for batters to get a good read on how the ball is moving. Usually, they can watch the spin of the ball to predict what pitch they are seeing, and hence, where it should end up. Second, the knuckleball moves much more erratically than a typical pitch.

How To Throw A Knuckleball

How To Throw A Knuckleball. Image Courtesy of fatherly.com

Here’s the steps you need to follow to hold and throw a knuckleball:

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HOW TO HOLD A KNUCKLEBALL

  1. Hold the ball with the seams running sideways. Put your index and middle fingers on top of the ball with just the tips of your fingers touching it. The rest of your index and middle finger should extend up and off the ball – it should look like you giving the ball bunny ears.
  2. Place your ring finger along the side of the ball and rest it there, pointing downward.
  3. Put your thumb on the seam opposite your ring finger.
  4. Leave you pinkie hanging off the ball.

HOW TO THROW A KNUCKLEBALL

  1. Wind up as if you were throwing a normal pitch.
  2. When you release the ball, try to keep your wrist as firm as possible. Don’t snap it like you would on a normal pitch.
  3. Make sure you fully follow through.

If you throw a knuckleball correctly, it will slowly bob and weave it’s way to home plate. You’ll leave your batter looking at it like a confused Porky Pig.

It take years and years to learn how to throw a good knuckleball. But if you’re able to control it you’ll have one of the most wicked pitches in your arsenal. Good luck!

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