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 a Knuckleball?
- How to Throw a Knuckleball
- Step 1: Gripping the Baseball for a Knuckleball
- Step 2: Arm Movement For Knuckleball Pitches
- Step 3: Execute the Knuckleball
- Practice Drills for Mastering the Knuckleball
- How Long Before You Learn How to Throw a Knuckleball Perfectly?
- Why is the Knuckleball So Important in Baseball?
- Why is it So Difficult to Hit a Knuckleball?
- Why You Should Learn to Throw Knuckleball?
What is a Knuckleball?
In baseball, a knuckleball is a type of pitch that is thrown with little to no spin, causing the pitch to move erratically toward the strike zone. A knuckleball is gripped with the pitcher’s fingertips and is delivered by the pitcher releasing all their fingers from the ball at the same time.
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.
And while the pitcher is throwing the knuckleball, they are pushing the ball toward the plate with thier fingertips.
When done correctly, all fingers leave the ball at the same time, causing the pitch to have zero spin.
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 in baseball.
Step 1: Gripping the Baseball for a Knuckleball
There’s more than one way of knowing how to hold a knuckleball. In fact, there are three common ways to hold a knuckleball in baseball.
Let’s learn the three different ways on how to hold a knuckleball so you can see which way works best for you.
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.
For a 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.
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.
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.
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 learning a new pitch, it can seem impossible to get it right.
To speed up the learning 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.
A good knuckleball has as little spin as possible because that’s how you get the erratic ball movement.
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. The “tells” come from pitchers thinking too much about how to throw.
The more times you practice the knuckleball, the better you get. And as you get better, your tells will subside. But it’s always good to be thinking about how your windup might be telling the hitter what you’re about to throw.
Simply put, keep your windup consistent among all your pitches.
Push the Ball Forward with Your Fingertips When Throwing a Knuckleball
The part that distinguishes the knuckleball from other kinds of pitches is the fingertip push.
To throw the ball, push the ball forward using your fingertips so the ball moves in the air without getting any spin.
This is so much easier said than done, so keep practicing.
Release the Thumb Grip When Throwing a 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.
Most batters aren’t used to seeing a pitcher throw a knuckleball so they’re also unfamilar with how to hit a knuckleball.
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 you can use to improve your knuckleball.
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.
And if you’re able to throw a decent knuckleball, make sure you warn your teammate. Knuckleballs have erratic movement and your teammate will probably need a heads up about the throw.
Hot Potato Drill for Knuckleball Practice
Like the game hot potato, pass the baseball around with some teammates, 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.
Lay on the Ground and Throw a 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? Honestly, it could take years, but the answer also depends on your passion for the pitch.
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 a different type of pitch. 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. Additionally, 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?”. They’re usually slow pitches and hitters have a lot of time to get ready for it to cross the plate.
In the case of a knuckleball, the pitcher makes sure the pitch is not affected by any spin. The main goal is to throw the ball in such a way that it moves with zero spin.
The no-spin of the pitch is what creates that zig-zag movement in the air, slowly floating towards the batter. This unpredictable motion of the ball easily confuses batters.
This confusion leads to the batter not knowing where the ball will cross the plate 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 an effective way of deceiving the 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.
Knuckleballs Are Cool
Not a lot of people throw a knuckleball so it’s kind of cool when you get to see it in person.
Knuckleballs have that unique zig-zag motion that makes it hard to hit and hard to catch. It’s also very tough to throw a knuckleball and it shows just how much work a player put into learning that skill.
Knuckleballs are such a unique baseball experience that players can’t help but be impressed.
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 practicing and you’ll be one of the few pitchers in your league that can master the knuckleball.