Knuckleball School

Discussion in 'The Clubhouse' started by BullGoose, Sep 18, 2009.

  1. BullGoose

    BullGoose Vendor

    Ken (Hawk) Harrelson - a former player, General Manager, and current announcer proposed an interesting idea. Why not hire a former knuckleball pitcher such as Phil Neikro or Charley Hough and create a knuckleball school for all of your struggling minor league pitchers (who would otherwise be released)? If just one of these pitchers becomes a decent knuckleball pitcher, you are ahead of the game.

    The beauty of the knuckleball is that it puts virtually no strain on the arm allowing a pitcher to pitch in relief one day and make a spot start if need be as soon as one day later. This is a huge luxury for any pitching staff.

    What do you think?
  2. Being able to throw a knuckleball is not a guarentee to success. Also, not every player has trouble hitting a knuckleball.

    If minor leaguers were taught the mentally and work ethic that Latino and Japanese players have, they would be even further ahead.
  3. Please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm a former minor leaguer who knows what I'm talking about when it comes to baseball... spending your whole life playing, studying, and living a game will do that.

    You are 100% wrong. EVERY hitter has trouble hitting a good knuckleball. When you see a guy crush a knuckleball it's because it didn't knuckle. The way it moves in the air, it is impossible to anticipate where it is going to be at the point of contact. In fact, that's why the knuckleballers in the league have special relationships with a single catcher (usually not the everyday catcher) who wears an abnormally big mitt because they are so hard to catch.

    Regarding work ethic, again your statement is specious. Virtually every player in professional baseball has a tremendous work ethic. Work ethic isn't the issue, in fact it never has been. Many of the latin players simply played more as children in an environment where everybody played baseball... Go to the city parks and tell me how many sandlot style baseball games you see in this country. It isn't the same today as it used to be where kids play all of the time... It's a minority of kids who play baseball, and it's a minority of the minority who are talented enough to play big time baseball.

    To the OP, I've wondered the same thing...
  4. BullGoose

    BullGoose Vendor certainly is not a guarantee of success. But, if you are going to release the player anyways, why not give it a shot?

    Tim Wakefield was a minor league infielder who could not hit his weight. He learned the knuckleball and is still pitching at the age of 44 (or however old he is). Charlie Haeger, now pitching for the Dodgers, was released, went back to school and joined his JC golf team. He taught himself the knuckleball and is now in the majors.

    The benefit to the team is that is saves the bullpen. If your bullpen happens to be overworked you can throw the knuckleball pitcher into the game and let him pitch as long as need be.

    In any minor league system you have scores of pitchers who have virtually no chance of reaching the majors. Since they are throw away players, why not gamble and see if you can find one who can become a successful knuckleball pitcher?
  5. BullGoose

    BullGoose Vendor

  6. The minor leagues are huge (3 teams within an hour of me) while the majors are smaller. A lot of people commit huge amounts of their time and lives to the minors with just the hope of a consideration. If you made it to the minors I think you have some good work ethic. A good knuckleballer could be devastating. It's a throw that is rare now and with no real way to prep for it...
  7. Every hitter has trouble hitting a good 12-6 curve, a good cutter, a good fastball, a good splitter, etc. Every pitch is hard to hit when thrown correctly. The degree of difficulty is arbitrary.

    A knuckleball, like every other pitch in baseball, is not thrown correctly 100% of the time. I mean, just look at Tim Wakefield. He has never won the Cy Young award, his career numbers are not the best, and he is not considered a dominant pitcher.

    My point is that while the knuckleball may be a good pitch, it is not a guarantee to success.
  8. 1. A 12-6 curveball with a ton of bite on it is easy to hit depending on the location
    2. We used to hit guys that threw in the upper 90s and low 100s all day long if they didn't have control... location, location, location
    3. Good splitters are really hard to hit, but you have to have a great arm to throw one... not everyone has that ability

    You are wrong... that's all there is to it. I've made my living at that game.
  9. You being a former big leaguer has anything to do with this. We are arguing about an OPINION. There is no scientific proof that pitch X is harder to hit than pitch Y.
  10. It's an opinion based on a lifetime of experience versus one based on watching from the sidelines... whatever that's worth.
  11. BullGoose

    BullGoose Vendor

    It goes beyond the knuckleball being a difficult pitch to hit (which it is). The added benefit is that a knuckleball pitcher can eat up innings and can work as both a reliever and a starter without much risk of hurting his arm. This takes the stress off the bullpen and is invaluable during a 162 game season.
  12. If you look at bullpen statistics for the past few years, you will find that, that is not entirely true, at least for the Red Sox with Tim Wakefield. If you can find statistics from earlier times (such as when the Niekro brothers played), feel free to prove me wrong.
  13. ouch

    ouch Moderator Contributor

    A knuckleball is the hardest pitch to hit. Folks have been playing baseball long before the physics of the game were understood. For a time, no one could explain the action of a curveball, but now we can.

    What makes baseball compelling is that it will always revolve around the battle of pitcher vs. batter. Batting is about timing, and pitching is about upsetting timing. The human body has an extraoridnary capacity to adapt to situations that seem impossible. How do you time your swing for a 100 mph fastball? How do you predict the drop of a wicked curve? Yet the accomplished hitter can translate minute visual cues into a successful result with a regularity that will earn him millions. And that's why the knuckleball is the hardest pitch to hit- its strength is its unpredictability. The pitcher doesn't know where it's going, the catcher doesn't know where it's landing, and the poor batter is left feeling like the hapless Gashouse Gorilla swinging three times at a single slowball thrown by Bugs Bunny.

    It throws our proprioception out of whack.
  14. BullGoose

    BullGoose Vendor

    Matt...if I was a manager I would love to have the luxury of having a good knuckleball pitcher. Can you prove to me why this would not be a good thing? I am not saying the knuckleball pitcher will win the Cy Young but he helps the staff in so many ways. One year Wilbur Wood led the White Sox in both wins and losses (24-20) and he was a huge help to the team. He even once pitched both games of a doubleheader and earned both wins. In 1972 he pitched 376.2 innings and regularly pitched more than 300 innings a year. Talk about saving a manager's hide!
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2009
  15. I just want to tell my favorite knuckleball story. :wink:

    Phil Niekro (I think) was pitching. He threw called strike three, but the ball made a strange break and hit the catcher's kneecap pad, solidly. The ball went dribbling up the third base line, where the 3rd baseman fielded it and threw the runner out.

    The announcer said, "That's the strangest play I've ever scored. 2 to 5 to 3 on a strikeout."

  16. I dont think the pitch thrown has anything to do with it. As Rich pointed out batters can hit whatever is thrown if they know whats coming and where its gonna be. Then he said location, location, location. I agree. Its not necessarily speed or movement that makes a pitcher my opinion its his understanding of the situation and his ability to fool the batter in that situation. Greg Maddux is the perfect example of this and in regard to specific pitches the splitter and the change up are the same. Those pitches appear to be something other than what they turn out to be and thus fool the batter.

    I pitched through high school and was taught by my uncle, a minor league pitcher with the Dodgers, and my father a college pitcher and third baseman, both of whom played for the Army team in Korea. My uncle was the manager. So while I have nothing like Rich's experience I was taught by some people with similar experience.

    I was a dominant little league pitcher, I had 4 pitches and at 13-14 years of age its too much for most batters to deal with. When I never had that big growth spurt in high school and it was readily apparent that I would never be a dominant fast baller, my dad and uncle set out to teach me the knuckler, screwball and even the palm ball...all of which they both could throw proficiently.

    I never could master the knuckle or the palm ball, my hands are too small, even though I could throw a nasty screwball (and it ultimately screwed my arm up) and I recall my knuckleball lessons quite clearly, and this is my point here, and why I think the knuckler never has become a favorite pitch...not only is it hard to throw and throw well, but even those guys that can throw it well (Wakefield and Niekro as mentioned) can't do it with sufficient regularity and predictability to make it a locatable pitch. It is almost like a "gadget play" in football. For the percentage of times you are successful with it, its devastating, but when you aren't successful its crippling.

    A guy like Wakefield can still throw it because he has a team that is utterly dominating behind him...he can afford to screw up. If you look at his stats he is nothing more than a middle of the road pitcher with a high winning percentage.

    Niekro is a more interesting guy...he was dominant for a while, but he pitched in a pitchers era, in big parks and threw the spitter as well, despite being on a mostly poor team.

    Furthermore, to the OP's point, I don't think that the bullpen theory works at all. Wakefield has made all of 4 relief appearances since he became a full time starter...the 2 latest in 2004 occurred in hardly heroic conditions. One was in April, on 8 days rest and 3 days before the next start, when he threw 2 innings after 6.2 in his previous start, and then he threw one inning after 6.2 in his previous start on 5 days rest and then he started 3 days later. Clearly in both of those the schedule of his starts dictated his ability to appear in relief rather than his arm flexibility...his manager was just giving him some work to tune him up. In 2003 he had 2...1 in April under similar circumstances to 2004 and 1 in May when he only threw 85 pitches in a prior start 2 days before and another 4 before his scheduled start. In 2002 he was primarily a closer. He made his first 2 appearances as a starter, then relieved with a couple of spot starts (with very low pitch counts) and then became a full time starter at the end of July.

    So, in answer to the original question...I don't think its worth it.
  17. another thing to consider about the knuckleball... it's not effective with a wind that blows from the throwers back. That will flatten it out and make it a bp fastball. When it is at its best is when you are throwing it into the wind. Then it is embarrassingly difficult to catch (on my part) and hit.

    My favorite knuckle ball story. We had a guy that used a knuckleball as an out pitch. He through it much harder than a typical knuckleballer would and threw his fastball in the upper 80s/90s. So, he was an atypical knuckleball pitcher. My first time to catch him in a game (as a professional mind you), he struck out the side and I missed all 3 knuckleball strike 3s. I would think that I had my mitt where it needed to be, and it would just disappear past me. Luckily, the backstop was close enough that I was able to throw the first two out without any problem. The third guy was incredibly fast. So, what I did was, instead of trying to catch the third strike on this guy, I just blocked it with my body and threw him out... It wasn't my finest moment, but we got the out:lol:

    Back to the bullpen theory. Anybody in baseball knows that if you can get in a team's bullpen and use up their arms, you've got a great chance of winning the series (regular series or post season). In fact, that's what we would always preach when facing a dominant guy. "Get him out of the game..." The reason that having a knuckleballer is a valid argument for saving the pen is that there are on occasions times when you are getting blown out and you have a relief pitcher that's asked to "take one for the team"... No matter what happens in those situations, that guy is going to sacrifice his stats and pride and just eat up innings. If you have a knuckleballer, like Wakefield, he can eat those innings up and be available the next day. If it's a normal guy, he's spent for 2 to 3 games. I think it's worth it, but knuckleballers are relatively scarce because it's a difficult pitch to master. It's similar to sidearmed pitchers... After Dennis Eckersley, I halfway expected to see a bunch of guys being taught how to throw sidearmed. However, it never really took off. I don't understand why, but my guess is that clubs would prefer to have really talented guys that threw in a conventional style instead of a bunch of guys who normally wouldn't hack it but are there because of a gimmick. [​IMG]
  18. Gruder

    Gruder Moderator Emeritus Contributor

  19. I hated trying hit knuckleballs. My biggest hope against knuckleballers was that they weren't "on" that day. If they threw it good, I felt like I was trying to hit hummingbird with a pencil. If they didn't have the good knuckler and it had some rotaiton to stabilize it, you could square it up pretty easy.

    The only thing I hated more than a good knuckle ball pitched to me as a batter was a scorched line drive that was knuckling right at me as an infielder. I can still feel a crease in my shin bone from one of those.
  20. BullGoose

    BullGoose Vendor

    :lol::lol::lol: I can definitely relate to that!

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