How To Master The Knuckleball


The knuckleball is one of the hardest pitches to throw in baseball. Although if done correctly, the knuckleball is a pitch that has been consistently getting batters out for more than a century due to its weird and erratic movement. Even the best pitchers on a team might not know how to actually throw a knuckleball. So, how do you throw a knuckleball?

The knuckleball is a pitch that is gripped with the fingernails of the pitcher’s hand. When thrown properly, the knuckleball has little to no spin, which will cause the ball to move erratically.

In this article, we’re going to talk about how you can master the knuckleball in baseball. We’re going to discuss everything you need to do, practice drills along with the benefits of throwing a knuckleball when the batter least expects it.

What is the Knuckleball?

In baseball, a knuckleball is a pitch that is thrown to minimize the spin of the ball in the air, causing an erratic or unpredictable movement.

A lot of people assume that, because of the name, they need to hold the ball with their knuckles. This is actually not the case!

When gripping the knuckleball, pitchers grip the ball with their fingernails – not their knuckles.

How to Throw a Knuckleball

When it comes to the real technique of throwing a knuckleball as great as R.A Dickey and Tim Wakefield, not everybody knows it. That’s why I’ve created a step-by-step guide for anyone to follow if they want to learn how to throw a knuckleball perfectly.

Step 1: Gripping the Baseball for a Knuckleball

The most important part of pitching the baseball is using the right grip for the right kind of pitch. Whether it’s a fastball, a curveball or a knuckleball, you need to make sure you’re gripping the ball accurately.

There are multiple ways of gripping the baseball if you’re looking to throw a knuckleball. Let’s talk about each of the gripping methods individually so you can choose whichever you find easier to pull off.

Two Knuckle Grip for Knuckleballs

The two-knuckle grip is useful if you’re looking to achieve a slower and floating knuckleball. Due to lesser knuckles being used to push the ball forward, the pace of the pitch will be reduced and the movement will be slower.

In the two-knuckle grip, you want to grip the back of one of the horseshoes of the seam of the baseball with the tips of your index and middle fingers, angling your knuckles upward. Your fingernails will rest in the leather behind the seam of the horseshoe.

With the thumb and the ring fingers, you’re going to provide the ball with stability so the grip is firm and strong. The thumb and ring fingers need to be on opposite sides to ensure the perfect grip. The pinky finger can reside below the ring finger for extra support. This grip is suitable for beginners who are learning the art of throwing a knuckleball.

Two-Knuckle Knuckleball Grip Overhead View
Two-Knuckle Knuckleball Grip Bottom View

Three Knuckle Grip for Knuckleballs

The three-knuckle grip is a more intermediate grip for a pitcher. The three-knuckle grip reduces stability. However, the flight of the ball is quicker and movement is more erratic which makes the baseball much more difficult to hit for a batter.

This grip requires you to firmly bury your fingertips (index, middle and ring finger) into the back of the horseshoe of the seam while angling your knuckles upward. Just like with the two-knuckle grip, your fingernails will rest in the leather behind the seam of the ball.

The thumb and the pinky finger will provide stability to the three-knuckle grip. This grip may feel somewhat less stable than the two-knuckle grip, but you’ll be able to pitch the ball farther and quicker which will ultimately be advantageous.

Three-Knuckle Knuckleball Grip Overhead View
Three-Knuckle Knuckleball Grip Bottom View

Four Knuckle Grip for Knuckleballs

The four-knuckle grip is a grip for professionals.

If you’ve practiced enough, you can learn to use the four-knuckle grip quite easily. It offers the quickest pace and the most erratic movement mid-air because of the push of four fingertips altogether.

To use the four-knuckle grip, firmly place your index, middle, ring, and pinky fingernails in the leather behind the seam of the ball. Make sure you’re not pressing too hard and you’re not hurting your throwing arm in the process.

Place the thumb directly opposite to the pinky knuckle to create a slightly stable movement.

And that’s how you grip a baseball with four knuckles for a knuckleball throw!

This grip is perfect for deception and risky strikes. If executed properly it will provide results, but it is the hardest knuckleball grip to learn.

Four-Knuckle Knuckleball Grip Side View
Four-Knuckle Knuckleball Grip Bottom View

Step 2: Arm Movement For Knuckleball Pitches

When it comes to throwing a knuckleball in its true form, you’re going to have to work on your arm angling and movement. Here are a couple of arm movements you need to take a look at.

  • Swing of the Arm
  • Wrist Movement

The Swing of the Arm Matters When Throwing Knuckleballs

When pitching the knuckleball, make your arm swing look as similar to your fastball as possible. The more your arm swing looks similar to your fastball, the more you will deceive the batter.

When just starting out with a new pitch, this can be tough to get down. To help speed up the process, try filming a couple of videos of yourself pitching fastballs and compare those to videos of yourself pitching a knuckleball.

Once these two arm movements look the same you will be fooling batters left and right.

The Pitcher’s Wrist Movement Matters When Throwing a Knuckleball

In the case of a knuckleball throw, the wrist movement is quite important.

While you throw, you’ll want to keep your wrist straight up with your palm facing the batter. If the wrist moves down while throwing the knuckleball, the ball will end up with some spin. And as mentioned previously, a good knuckleball has as little spin as possible.

So, focus on little wrist movement and try to throw with your fingers.

Step 3: Execute the Knuckleball

With the proper arm movement and grip, you’re now ready to execute the perfect knuckleball. Here are some of the final touches you need to provide your baseball throw before you pitch the ball.

Keep the Wind-up the Same During a Knuckleball Pitch

Begin the pitch like any other pitch. Much like keeping your arm motion the same as your fastball, you’ll also want to make sure your wind-up has the same motion as your fastball.

Lots of pitchers just starting out with a new pitch don’t realize they have certain “tells” when throwing an off-speed pitch. In order to deceive the batter, keep your wind-up the same pace as your normal fastball wind-up.

Push the Ball Forward with Your Fingertips When Throwing a Knuckleball

The part which distinguishes the knuckleball from other kinds of pitches is the fingertip push. In order to throw the ball, push the ball forward using your fingertips so that the ball moves in the air without getting any spin.

Release the Thumb Grip When Throwing the knuckleball

Release the thumb grip at the right time to ensure that you threw the ball perfectly. This will take some time and practice to perfect, but the more you practice the better you will get at your release point.

When thrown properly, you’ll see very little spin on the ball and hopefully some erratic movement.

Throwing a proper knuckleball with no spin and erratic movement will be missed by even the best of batters.

Practice Drills for Mastering the Knuckleball

Even if you follow the step by step guide provided, like any other skill, you’re not going to become a pro at throwing the knuckleball right away. You’ll need to practice your way to mastering it.

Below are some practice drills that you can use to make your knuckleball throw better.

All of these drills are extremely effective and have been used by the baseball pitching greats. So, if you want to pitch a knuckleball and you want to master it, use these drills to get better.

Practice a Knuckleball When Playing Catch

If you’re out in the field with your teammates, play catch with them and practice your knuckleball throw at the same time. Try out a few knuckleball grips and practice your arm movements. Just playing catch could be fun and helpful all at the same time.

Hot Potato Drill for Knuckleball Practice

Like the game hot potato, pass the baseball around, but make sure you use your knuckleball grip for this game. The hot potato drill with a knuckleball grip will ensure that you grip and push the ball away perfectly in a swift manner.

Throwing the Knuckleball Upward

Another great drill that you can use to practice throwing a knuckleball is by lying down flat on the ground and throwing the knuckleball upward into the air.

Push the ball upward using your fingertips, stretching your knuckles, and release the grip of the thumb at the right time to master the knuckleball.

How Long Before You Learn How to Throw a Knuckleball Perfectly?

Mastering any particular pitch is extremely difficult and time-taking. The knuckleball pitchers that you see so easily have worked hard and practiced for ages before they could execute the knuckleball perfectly.

So, how long is it going to take you to throw the perfect knuckleball? Well, that depends on your passion for the sport.

If you’re really dedicated then you can learn the right way to throw a perfect knuckleball in a fairly short amount of time. A “fairly short amount of time” will vary from pitcher to pitcher, but to give you an idea – R.A. Dickey gave an interview where he mentioned that he practiced over and over again for about 2.5 years before he felt comfortable pitching the knuckleball.

Keep in mind that R.A. Dickey pitched at the Major League level so he needed to perfect the pitch before lobbing in an easy home run to a batter. But it is a good indicator that a good knuckleball takes time and practice.

When it comes down to it, it all really depends upon practice. The more you practice, the better you get at it. So train hard, practice knuckleball drills, and you’re going to see great results soon.

Why is the Knuckleball So Important in Baseball?

The origin of the knuckleball has been credited to Toad Ramsey and Eddie Cicotte in the early 20th century. From then, only a handful of pitchers have been able to master the knuckleball completely.

The reason that the knuckleball is so important in the game of baseball is that it is simply different. It is a unique style of throwing the ball that no batter has actually gotten used to. 

It is incredibly difficult to perfect for throwers because of all the instantaneous movement changes required to throw it. Moreover, knucklers are very effective in major and minor leagues when it comes to getting quick outs.

As the batters in the major leagues are used to 90-95mph pitches, a knuckleball being slow and floating can be incomprehensible for batters to pick up so early. The incomprehensibility of the throw and the difficulty of the technique is what makes the knuckleball such an important pitch in baseball.

Why is it So Difficult to Hit a Knuckleball?

It has been the talk of the town for a long time – “Why are knuckleballs so hard to hit?”. Well, until a few years ago, nobody really knew. But with time, experts and researchers have concluded exactly why they think knuckleballs are so difficult to hit crisply.

When a pitcher throws a fastball, the aim is to provide a unique amount of spin to the ball so that the ball moves in the air towards the direction the pitcher wants it to move. Since the batter realizes the movement of the ball, they’re able to hit the spinning ball much more easily.

In the case of a knuckleball, the pitcher makes sure the throw of the baseball is not affected by any spin. The main aim is to throw the ball in such a way that it moves with ideally no spin. This way the ball creates its own zig-zag movement in the air, slowly floating towards the batter. This unpredictable motion of the ball makes the batter confused.

This confusion leads to the batter losing the ball and it ends up as a strike. It’s such a quick process that makes the knuckleball extremely difficult to hit.

Why You Should Learn to Throw Knuckleball?

The benefits of throwing a knuckleball range from a higher chance of a strike to better stamina of the pitcher’s arm. Let’s take a look at some of the great benefits that come with the art of pitching a knuckleball.

Throwing Knuckleballs Conserves Stamina

When throwing a knuckleball, the pitcher requires much less strength and force than a normal fastball or quick pitch.

This is because instead of having to provide the baseball with the direction and movement, the ball moves on its own. Really, all you have to do is push the ball outward using your fingertips with a gentle movement.

So, through the motion of throwing a knuckleball, the pitcher has better stamina and should be able to last longer than a pitcher without a knuckleball in their pitching arsenal.

Knuckleballs Are Great Against Quick and Powerful Hitters

Batters who are impatient and quick to hit pitches generally expect spinning and quick balls to come at them at speeds of around 90 mph.

This is why, against powerful hitters, the knuckleball is the best way of deceiving a hitter. With a slower than average movement pace and a completely spin-less motion, the knuckleball will do an excellent job of taking care of the batter.

Knuckleballs Are Game-Changing Pitches

The knuckleball has been a game-changer in all leagues – whether it’s major or minor league baseball. That’s why only a handful of people in history have been credited as actual masters of the knuckleball. So, you can throw a knuckleball and be the game-changer for your team.

Conclusion

If you learn from this guide and make sure that you put in the right amount of practice, rest assured that you that you’ll be able to throw the perfect knuckleball soon enough. Keep practing and you’ll be one of the few pitchers in your leauge that can master the knuckleball.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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