Early on in my brief yet surprisingly effective pitching career in little league baseball, I realized a fastball from my arm was not much faster than an underhand toss. I turned to a pitch that always fascinated me to find some success, the knuckleball.
Few pitchers in today’s world throw a knuckleball and the ones that do are different from Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, or the other well-known knuckleball pitchers. R.A. Dickey, a recent Cy Young winner, pitches a faster version of the knuckleball, possibly even more dangerous than his predecessors’ pitch due to the increased speed.
The main reason why you should learn the knuckleball is this: when used right, you can fool any hitter. A pitch known to dance in the wind in multiple directions, doing this right can reap many benefits from the mound.
The way you hold the baseball determines the direction the ball will go when thrown. For the knuckleball you want to have your thumb against the ball as the main anchor with the rest of your fingers on top, nails down. Your knuckles will curl up, hence the name of the pitch. This may feel awkward and look it too, but overtime it will become more natural.
Make sure when pitching from the windup you stay the same as you would if you were throwing a fastball. For younger pitchers, being deceptive is far less important as your opponents will probably not have the skill to pick-up on little nuisances like this quite yet. As you get older though, you will want to practice a lot at hiding the ball and staying consistent in your delivery.
Unlike other pitches where you want a lot of power behind it, the knuckleball requires more finesse. Instead of throwing with your legs and shoulders, the knuckleball also forces you to push the ball forward. You want the ball to essentially slide out of your hand past the thumb toward the catcher. Spin is not necessary either. In fact, the more spin you put on it the more likely the pitch will be a dud. By pushing the ball instead of throwing with power, the ball will naturally float through the air with a deceptive wobble. You can thank gravity for that.
As with any pitch, you will need to practice a lot to get it right. Find a comfortable grip and practice from a shorter distance if you are having trouble reaching the plate. Most of all be creative. Even if you are unable to perfect the knuckleball you can still manage to invent a new off-speed pitch that hitters are unable to make contact with.
The advice for hitting a knuckleball is the saying, “If it’s high let it fly. If it’s low let it go.” Keep this in mind when pitching as it can give you a hint where hitters are hoping to find the ball cross the plate.
The Complete Pitcher